NASA announced today that its Voyager 2 spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977, has now become the second man-made object to exit our solar system.
Some 41 years after its launch, Voyager 2 has gone interstellar, making its way out of the solar system, as announced today by Ed Stone of NASA during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
“For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars,” NASA said in a statement. “NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.”
In 1977, NASA launched a pair of space probes to study the outer solar system: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.
Voyager 2 actually launched first, on August 20, 1977 to study the outer planets. 16 days later, Voyager 1 launched on September 5, 1977.
Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to explore ice giants Uranus and Neptune.
Voyager 2 is now beaming its observations over 11 billion miles back to NASA scientists. The information is beamed back at the speed of light, but it still takes it 16.5 hours to reach Earth.
Voyager 2 spacecraft is armed with a plasma science (PLS) instrument which is expected to allow the probe to send back invaluable information on the nature of the Heliosheath, as well as, information about the interstellar medium outside our solar system.
“Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data,” said John Richardson, who is the principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Everything we’re seeing is new… so we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.”