NASA’s Voyager explores interstellar space!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

In the deepest reaches of our galaxy, there is a region known as “interstellar space,” where there are no stars, no magnetic fields, and no planets floating around. Scientists have predicted that the atmosphere of this space would be really cold and dense, but there was no way to know for sure. That is, until NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe became the first man-made object to ever reach interstellar space!

Voyager interstellar diagram
A clever little conceptual map of space and where the Voyager is.

Since its launch in 1977, the Voyager has traveled about 33 years to leave the heliosphere – the region around the Sun and its orbiting planets – and enter interstellar space. Want to hear something really crazy? According to NASA scientists, the trip was about 11 billion miles long! Ed Stone, chief scientist on the Voyager mission, said, “In leaving the heliosphere and setting sail on the cosmic seas between the stars, Voyager has joined other historic journeys of exploration: The first circumnavigation of the Earth, the first steps on the Moon. That’s the kind of event this is, as we leave behind our solar bubble.”

However, just because the Voyager left the heliosphere doesn’t mean that it’s completely out of the Solar System. The spacecraft still hasn’t crossed the Oort cloud – an area in space where tons of comets orbit the Sun – which marks the end of the Solar System. How long will it take to get there? “We’ll get to the inner edge of the Oort cloud in about 300 years,” said Stone.  “Of course, the spacecraft will not still be transmitting then.” In the extreme off chance that the Voyager’s energy is able to last until it reaches the end of the Solar System, it’ll still take another 30,000 years to get past the Oort cloud. I told you it was an off chance!

Images and video courtesy of NASA.