After 35 years of space exploration, NASA’s Voyager 1 satellite has reached the edges of our solar system. Voyager 1 has encountered a region that scientists are calling a “magnetic highway,” where charged particles take an “exit ramp” into deep space. This is the last point before Voyager 1 enters interstellar space.
This so-called “magnetic highway” is the region that connects the Sun’s magnetic field lines to interstellar magnetic field lines. This allows inner heliosphere lower-energy charged particles to zoom in and outer heliosphere higher-energy particles to stream into our solar system, which is why NASA is going for the highway metaphor. The heliposphere is the “immense magnetic bubble containing our solar system, solar wind, and the entire solar magnetic field,” according to NASA partner Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
Apparently, the magnetic field orientation travels East to West and was once thought to travel North to South according to a few NASA astrophysicist. This is due to the Sun and winds from explosions of supernovae influence to interstellar space.
Voyager 1 launched in 1977, with its twin satellite Voyager 2. They are the longest-serving spacecrafts in NASA history. Voyager 2 is currently about 100 Astronomical Units (AU) away from Earth, and Voyager 1 is a little bit further away at 122 AU. An Astronomical Unit is approximately the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
NASA is unsure when exactly Voyager 1 will leave our solar system for interstellar space, but they expect the satellite to remain in the heliopause for another two to three years. The heliopause is the region of the “magnetic highway” where the interstellar medium and solar wind pressures balance. This region is also known as the outer boundary of the solar system. It’s only a matter of time before Voyager 1 makes its way into unexplored territory.