Voyager 1 Leaves Solar System: Where Is It Going?

By Philip Ross on March 20, 2013 3:34 PM EDT

Voyager 1
Voyager 1, a space probe launched in 1977 to explore the outer planets, is believed to have left the solar system, making it the first manmade object to enter interstellar space. (Photo: NASA)
Voyager 1
Voyager 1 image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. (Photo: Creative Commons)
Voyager 1
Voyager 1 image of Saturn. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Voyager 1, a probe launched into space over 35 years ago, is going, going, gone! As the spacecraft has reportedly exited our solar system. When confirmed (there's still some skepticism among NASA scientists as to whether or not the spacecraft has actually left the solar system yet) it will be the first manmade object ever to leave the heliosphere - the bubble of charged particles with the Sun at its center.

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Launched by NASA on Sept. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 has since been on a journey towards the unexplored regions of space. Its mission, along with that of its companion probe, Voyager 2, sent into space shortly after Voyager 1, was to survey the outer planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The probe has been our eyes into the distant corners of the solar system, giving us close-up images of these and other heavenly bodies. Both Voyagers completed their surveys of these planets in 1989, and have been hurtling towards the edge of the solar system ever since.

Scientists said last December that the probe was in an area at the edge of the solar system called the "magnetic highway," the final stop before interstellar space, Fox News reported. Now, more than 11 billion miles from the sun, Voyager 1 seems to have left the solar system.

In a press release from earlier today, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) notes that on Aug. 25, 2012, the probe measured drastic changes in radiation levels, indicating, according to scientists, that the Voyager 1 had entered a new region of space, believed to be outside the boundaries of our solar system. The AGU released the statement early this morning, but quickly changed its original headline which NASA said was misleading, according to TIME. The new headline reads: "Voyager 1 has entered a new region of space, sudden changes in cosmic rays indicate."

The "new region of space" is believed to be outside the solar system. However, scientists are continuing to debate whether Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space or has entered some other region beyond the solar system, according to the release.

"It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that," said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, told Fox News. "We're in a new region. And everything we're measuring is different and exciting."

But where is Voyager 1 headed?

The BBC reported that Voyager 1 has about 10 to 15 years of battery life left before its instruments and transmitters die. The probe is on a course towards a star called AC +793888, but it will be tens of thousands of years before Voyager 1 reaches it, according to the BBC.

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