Voyager has helped redefine our understanding of the Solar System's farthest reaches. Above are old and new views of the heliosheath. Red and blue spirals are the gracefully curving magnetic field lines of orthodox models. New data from Voyager add a magnetic froth (inset) to the mix. Credit: NASA

By Aditya Chopra

The real spacefaring Flying Ducthman is closer to the World’s End. Well, at least the end of the solar system! The Voyager 1 spacecraft is in the cusp of interstellar space, 18 billion kilometers away from Sun. The latest data described at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years.

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space, which scientists are calling the stagnation region. In the stagnation region, the wind of charged particles streaming out from our Sun has slowed and turned inward for the first time, our solar system's magnetic field has piled up, and higher-energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space. This image shows that the inner edge of the stagnation region is located about 113 astronomical units (10.5 billion miles or 16.9 billion kilometers) from the Sun. Voyager 1 is currently about 119 astronomical units (11 billion miles or 17.8 billion kilometers) from the Sun. The distance to the outer edge is unknown. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Voyager 1 and Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean have another thing in common – they just don’t die! Launched in 1977 along with its sister spacecraft Voyager 2, to study and photograph the giant outer planets of the Solar System, the robot ship was expected to survive just four years. However, like many of NASAs missions, the little spacecraft kept on going.  Over the years the spacecrafts have provided invaluable data about the Solar System environment can help astrobiologists understand how the Solar System came to support life’s development on planet Earth, and will aid in the search for similar, habitable worlds around distant stars.

To converse fuel and battery, engineers having been turning off some of the power hungry instruments like the spectrometers but the basic instruments and radio communication instruments should be fine for another few years. The Voyagers have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to operate at least until 2020. These days they are helping us better understand the structure of the edge of our solar system and will soon (sometime within the next decade) reveal distance to the outer edge of the Solar System. Find out more at: http://www.astrobio.net/pressrelease/4390/voyager-enters-cosmic-purgatory

Eventually, the Voyagers will pass other stars:

  • Voyager 1, in 40,000 years, will float by within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of a star known as AC+79 3888 in the constellation Camelopardalis.
  • Voyager 2, in 296,000 years, will sail within 4.3 light years (25 trillion miles) of Sirius, which today is the brightest star in Earth’s sky.

Will the Voyagers discover the Fountain of Youth as they journey continues On Stranger Tides of the galaxy?