CM – In the void of space, Voyager 1 detects plasma hum.


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May 10, 2021

from Cornell University

Voyager 1 – one of two sibling NASA spacecraft that launched 44 years ago and is now the most distant human-made object in space – is still functioning and zooming towards infinity.

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The ship has long since crept over the heliopause – the boundary of the solar system to interstellar space – into the edge of the solar system into the interstellar medium. Now his instruments have discovered the constant drone of interstellar gas (plasma waves), as research led by Cornell University published in Nature Astronomy.

Stella Koch Ocker, a Cornell PhD student in astronomy, is studying data that is slowly coming out returned more than 22 billion kilometers away, and has detected the emission. « It’s very weak and monotonous because it’s in a narrow frequency range, » Ocker said. « We’re discovering the faint, sustained hum of interstellar gas. »

This work enables scientists to understand how the interstellar medium interacts with the solar wind, Ocher said, and how the protective bubble of the solar system’s heliosphere is shaped by the interstellar environment and is modified.

The spacecraft Voyager 1, launched in September 1977, flew from Jupiter in 1979 and from Saturn in late 1980. In August 2012, Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause at a speed of about 60,000 km / h.

After entering interstellar space, the spacecraft’s plasma wave system detected perturbations in the gas. But between these eruptions – caused by our own sun – researchers have discovered a steady, persistent signature created by the weak near vacuum of space.

« The interstellar medium is like a calm or gentle rain, » said the senior author James Cordes, the George Feldstein professor of astronomy. « In the event of a sun outbreak, it’s like seeing a lightning strike in a thunderstorm and then raining gently again. »

Ocher believes that the interstellar gas is less active than previously thought, which allows researchers to assess the spatial Tracking the distribution of plasma – that is, when it is not disturbed by solar flares.

Cornell researcher Shami Chatterjee explained the importance of continuously tracking the density of interstellar space. « We’ve never had the opportunity to evaluate this. Now we know that we don’t need a random sun-related event to measure interstellar plasma, » said Chatterjee. « Regardless of what the sun is doing, Voyager sends details back. The vehicle says, ‘Here is the density I’m swimming through. And here it is now. And here it is now. And here it is now.’ Voyager is quite a long way away and will continue to do so. « 

Voyager 1 left Earth with a gold record made by a committee chaired by the late Cornell Professor Carl Sagan, and with technology from the middle of the world 1970s. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it took 22 watts to send a signal to Earth. The vehicle has almost 70 kilobytes of computer memory and – at the beginning of the mission – a data rate of 21 kilobits per second.

Due to the distance of 14 billion miles, the communication rate has since increased to 160 bits per second or about half a 300- Baud rate slows down.

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