NASA's Voyager 1 creeps towards interstellar space

The Voyager 1 has found its way into the far reaches of space, specifically to the edge beyond which scientists believe lies interstellar space. This area is within our solar bubble, and is referred to as a "magnetic highway for charged particles." The findings were detailed earlier today at the American Geophysical Union, which took place in San Francisco.

The magnetic highway detailed in the announcement is explained thusly: the connection betwixt the sun's magnetic field lines and interstellar magnetic field lines lets high energy particles from beyond our heliopsphere "zoom in," while letting low-energy particles "zoom out." When Voyager goes beyond these fields into interstellar space, it is believed the occasion will be marked by a change in the direction of the lines.

One of the project's scientist Edward Stone offered this statement. "Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway. We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager."

Voyager has been traipsing around the outer layer of the heliosphere for years, 5.5 of which were spent with stable solar wind. Over time – and rather suddenly – the solar wind decreased, eventually to zero. Says scientists, if one were to look at the charged particle (solar wind) information, it would seem that the Voyager is already beyond the heliosphere. Other data doesn't indicate this, however, and so for the time being, it's still a matter of patience.

[via NASA]