NASA’s Voyager 2 Enters Interstellar Space
Voyager 2, first launched in 1977 to explore the gas giant planets of our solar system, has entered into interstellar space, making it the second man-made object to travel such a distance from Earth. The probe was sent along with Voyager 1 as a backup in case any catastrophic failures took place, but both probes are still going strong, with Voyager 1 reaching interstellar space early last month.
A news conference held by the American Geophysical Union had scientists and engineers expressing their excitement for future research that is to be conducted with the probe. Their continued journey into the cosmos will proceed with further research into better understanding the mysteries of the sun, and how we can someday utilize solar wind to travel through wide swaths of space. It will also be able to bring greater insight into how we understand exoplanets and the balance required within a solar system to harbor a hospitable planet.
During its time traveling through our solar system, Voyager 2 paved the way for future space missions. It was the first to reveal that the icy moons of Saturn contained the presence of water. Its images of Uranus and Neptune also served as the standard for observation of those planets for nearly 30 years.
According to Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager Interstellar Mission, “Both spacecraft are very healthy, if you consider them senior citizens.” Voyager operations personnel will have to keep up with the probes continual loss of heat and power which is four watts less of energy per year. This means the team will have to resort to turning off onboard instruments periodically throughout the rest of its operational life, in order to keep the spacecraft in operation for as long as possible. Dodd estimates that both probes have about 5 – 10 years left before they run out of power, but her ultimate goal is to get a full 50 years of use out of the spacecraft, since their launch in 1977.
Once the spacecraft loses power, it will continue to drift through space for 300 hundred years before reaching the inner edge of the Oort Cloud, a sphere of comets surrounding the solar system. It will take nearly 30,000 years to pass through it, before finally settling into a very long orbit of the Milky Way Galaxy for millions of years.