Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Left the Solar System (Updated)

Illustration for article titled Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Left the Solar System (Updated)

For the very first time, a man-made object has reached the cosmic abyss beyond the farthest reaches of our solar system. As of today, Voyager 1 is the first spacecraft to begin the endless journey into deep space.


Launched way back on September 5th, 1977, Voyager 1 has been blasting along towards the edges of the heliosphere at 10.72 mile per second, faster than any other man-made object to date. On its way out there, it explored Jupiter in '79 and Saturn in '80. We've known Voyager 1 was going to peace out sooner or later, but now a study in published Geophysical Research Letters has made it official.

From the release:

Thirty-five years after its launch, Voyager 1 appears to have travelled beyond the influence of the Sun and exited the heliosphere, according to a new study appearing online today.

The heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy.

Voyager 1 isn't headed toward any particular star, but it'll be making a "close" (1.6 lightyear) flyby past Gliese 445 in just 40,000 years. Don't expect to hear about that though; strategic shutdown of its sensors will start in 2020, and by 2030, there won't be any power left. But there will be a little—albeit lifeless—bit of humanity cruising endlessly among the stars. And that's awesome, in the most literal way. [American Geophysical Union via Time]

Update: Turns out NASA's not so keen on saying it "left" the solar system yet.

"It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed."


Organized Chaos

When the time comes, who gets to merge with V'ger?