NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space

The image shows the heliosphere that wraps around the Sun, its planets and far beyond.

Since beginning its journey in 1977 Voyager 2 has travelled around 11 billion miles away from Earth and is the only spacecraft to have visited the two ice giants in our solar system, Uranus and Venus.

When Voyager 1 saw a similar increase in cosmic rays, it was about three months later when the spacecraft entered interstellar space. This is the same thing that happened to Voyager 1 when it finally broke out of our system's heliosphere, which is the "vast bubble around the sun and planets dominated by solar material and magnetic fields", according to NASA. Scientists are waiting for Voyager 2 to reach the outer boundary of the heliosphere known as the heliopause.

Once Voyager 2 exits the heliosphere, it will become the second human-made object, after Voyager 1, to enter interstellar medium.

Voyager team members note that the increase in cosmic rays is not a definitive sign that the probe is about to cross the heliopause.

"We're seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there's no doubt about that", said Voyager project scientist Dr. Ed Stone, a researcher at Caltech. Made up of mainly protons, electrons and atomic nuclei, cosmic rays blast through space at almost the speed of light, and are thought to be ejected during powerful supernova explosions.

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Researchers can best measure its progress through the study of cosmic rays-fast-moving particles that originate outside the Solar System.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 aren't traveling in exactly the same direction, so it's been hard for NASA to predict when each spacecraft would officially being an interstellar journey in relation to the other.

And if we're going off of history, the craft could be crossing the threshold any day now.

In May 2012, Voyager 1 experienced an increase in the rate of cosmic rays similar to what Voyager 2 is now detecting. Another interesting tidbit from the science team monitoring the Voyager 2 spacecraft is that the six-year gap between Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 reaching the heliopause is important. This cycle causes variations in solar flares, eruptions and winds, which makes the heliopause expand and contract.

In a statement, NASA said: 'Since late August, the Cosmic Ray Subsytem instrument on Voyager 2 has measured about a 5 percent increase in the rate of cosmic rays hitting the spacecraft compared to early August.


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