Search results for: "Voyager 2"

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The Solar System May Have Two New Members

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EightTNOsIf you’re still crying about the demotion of Pluto, it’s probably time to focus on something else, namely, on the possibility that the dwarf planet isn’t the end of our solar system. Scientists have recently uncovered new evidence suggesting that the elusive “Planet X” might be real, and there might be two of them.

The idea of Planet X goes back more than 150 years. By then, astronomers knew about Uranus, but they also discovered that its orbit was wonky, which made them suspect Uranus was under the gravitational influence of another planet. In 1846, Neptune was discovered, but astronomers noted that Neptune’s orbit was also a bit odd. Hence, Pluto—except not really. As it turns out, Pluto is too small to have the kind of effect on Neptune astronomers noticed. So they figured there could be yet another planet, a bigger one, out past Neptune.

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NASA Confirms That Voyager 1 Is Soaring Through Interstellar Space

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VoyagerVoyager 1 already had the distinction of being the man-made object that has travelled further from Earth than anything else we, as a species, have ever flung out into space, but that isn’t going to stop it from travelling deeper and deeper into the unknown. NASA confirms that the probe is indeed now travelling through interstellar space.

Back in August of 2012, Voyager made international headlines when it was announced that it had actually left the heliosphere. This is essentially a giant bubble of magnetic fields and charged particles that surround our sun and extends far past Pluto. Plasma from the sun, so-called solar wind, pushes against the pressure of the interstellar medium, which is the hydrogen and helium mixture that makes up much of our galaxy. Interstellar space begins where the heliosphere ends.

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Voyager 1 Boldly (And Historically) Goes Into Interstellar Space

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Voyager 1Voyager 1 has been journeying through space just longer than I’ve been journeying on Earth — 36 years. Now scientists know for sure that it’s the first man-made craft to exit our solar system and pass into interstellar place, having left the sun some 12 billion miles behind.

For the past year, Voyager 1 has been traversing “star stuff” — ionized gas otherwise known as plasma. It’s currently free of the sun’s gravitational pull and out of the solar system, but not free of all effects of the sun. It no longer has to use sunscreen, though.

The Voyager team is busy analyzing new data sent from Voyager 1 about the plasma it recently passed through and the space it’s currently traversing. Everything it registers is completely new, so scientists have a lot of work to do in terms of making sense of the information coming in, as well as figuring out what the new questions and gaps are. Like impatient kids in the back seat during a long road trip, scientists have been waiting in anticipation, asking “Are we there yet?” Finally, we are.

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Neptune’s Tiny 14th Moon Has Been Discovered

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neptune new moonOne of the most fascinating and humbling aspects of space exploration is that almost everything is billions of years older than the discovery. (Just once, I’d like to see someone find an advertisement for the iPhone 7 plastered all over an alien planet.) Every once in a while, though, astronomers don’t even realize what they’re looking at, and what should have been an old discovery takes a while to be found.

The SETI Institute’s Mark Showalter was studying images of Neptune’s rings taken back in 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescope. On July 1, he started looking along the outer edges of the rings when he noticed a white dot that neither he nor anybody else had identified before. And a new Neptunian moon was born, so to speak. It’s now called S/2004 N 1, just in case you were thinking of writing a song about it.

“The moons and arcs orbit very quickly, so we had to devise a way to follow their motion in order to bring out the details of the system,” said Showalter in a press release. “It’s the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete — the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs.”

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The Solar System Has A Tail

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solar system's heliotailAh, space. You never disappoint. You’ve always been the source of tales, but now you’re also the source of a tail. Our solar system’s tail, to be precise.

Apparently NASA has known about this for a while, but just recently observed the comet-like tail, called a heliotail for its cloverleaf shape, for the first time. NASA’s interstellar boundary explorer, IBEX, has for a few years been collecting data from the edge of our solar system, focusing particularly on the effects of solar wind. Using three years of data and images from IBEX, scientists have been able to map the boundaries of the solar system, including its heliotail.

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Voyager 1 Explores The Boundaries Of Our Solar System

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Voy1Originally launched in 1977, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has traveled farther than anything else humans have hucked into space. Now it’s on the verge of breaking the grip of the Sun’s gravitational pull and leaving our Solar System. The deep-space explorer may still be months, or even years, from actually reaching interstellar space, but for the time being it is sending back a glut of information about the last reaches of our “solar bubble,” or heliopshere. Scientists have named this last vestige of our solar system “the magnetic highway.”

Ed Stone, a Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said, “This strange, last region before interstellar space is coming into focus, thanks to Voyager 1, humankind’s most distant scout.”

Voyager reached the magnetic highway on August 25, which is more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the Sun. If you’re keeping score, that’s 122 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.