Voyager 1 Leaves The Solar System, The First Man-Made Object To Ever Do So

By Josh Lieberman on September 12, 2013 5:28 PM EDT

voyager 1
For the first time in human history, a man-made object has left the solar system. Voyager 1 is still able to communicate with NASA despite its distance. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Voyager 1 has left the solar system, becoming the first man-made object in human history to do so. Voyager 1, which is currently 12 billion miles from the sun, entered interstellar space in August 2012, 36 years after its 1977 launch.

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Whether Voyager 1 had left the solar system has been a debated topic in recent months. Evidence that cosmic rays were hitting Voyager, at the same time as energy particles from inside the heliosphere dropped, pointed to evidence that Voyager had left the solar system. According to a new study in the journal Science, that is in fact the case: Voyager left on August 25, 2012. There have been rumors of this departure occurring before, but now, for the first time, NASA agrees.

"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," said Ed Stone, chief scientist on the Voyager mission. "That's the kind of event this is, as we leave behind our solar bubble."

"The Voyager team needed time to analyze those observations and make sense of them. But we can now answer the question we've all been asking: 'Are we there yet?' Yes, we are."

Despite its unfathomable distance from Earth, Voyager 1 still communicates with NASA. The signals are dim, coming in at 23 watts, or about the power of a light bulb in a refrigerator. Data from Voyager 1 takes 17 hours to reach Earth. The spacecraft has 68 KB of memory onboard (remember, it was launched in 1977).

"Even 35 years on, our rugged Voyager spacecraft are poised to make new discoveries as we eagerly await the signs that we've entered interstellar space," Stone said on the 35th anniversary of the Voyager project. "Voyager results turned Jupiter and Saturn into full, tumultuous worlds, their moons from faint dots into distinctive places, and gave us our first glimpses of Uranus and Neptune up-close. We can't wait for Voyager to turn our models of the space beyond our sun into the first observations from interstellar space."

Voyager 1 carries the Voyager Golden Record, a collection of images and sounds meant to represent Earth's culture to aliens or future humans who may find it. The record, which contains nature sounds and the likes of Mozart and Bach, is of course now the first samples of music to reach beyond the solar system. Celebrate below with one of the Voyager Golden Record tracks, Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." The aliens who find the Golden Record will definitely dig this.

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