back to article Boffins claim Voyager has already left the Solar System

There's a boffin battle brewing at the fringe of the Solar System. At issue is whether the venerable Voyager 1 spacecraft has left the region where Sol's electromagnetic winds blow, or is still in the tiny pocket of space we call home. The “we're outta here” camp has penned a letter in The Astrophysics Journal titled “A …

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  1. jake Silver badge

    Where we have equipment is unimportant.

    What's important is what we are learning from that equipment.

    Egos need to stand down, and look at raw data.

    EOF

    1. Ossi

      Re: Where we have equipment is unimportant.

      Egos? I don't see any egos here. This just seems to be normal academic debate with two competing theories.

  2. Captain DaFt

    It kind of makes sense

    Put two magnets near each other, and their fields line up, reorienting the magnets positions.

    Kind of makes sense that eventually a star would orient its field to the galactic one.

    After all, isn't the galactic field just the sum of all the fields of the stars, neutron stars, magnetars, quasars, what-have-you, anyway? And all those fields'll be seeking equilibrium.

    1. Beachrider

      Are you talking about the Galaxy?

      Just to be sure, you aren't talking about time alignment of anything else... These thing do flip around, no?

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: It kind of makes sense

      I take it that you are not aware that the sun's magnetic field inverts every eleven years or so then?

      Solar Cycle

  3. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Coat

    Obligatory xkcd reference

    xkcd: Voyager 1

    1. thosrtanner

      Re: Obligatory xkcd reference

      Am waiting for the crash and tinkle when it hits the crystal sphere

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Obligatory xkcd reference

        "Am waiting for the crash and tinkle when it hits the crystal sphere"

        It's happened, but the sound hasn't reached us yet.

        To anybody thinks there's no sound in space: you're wrong; it's just very, very, very quiet.

      2. Isn't it obvious?

        Obligatory Crystal Spheres reference

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crystal_Spheres

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    So Voyager 1 and 2 will constitute the *only* datasets for this problem

    Up till now it's all been models.

    I'm not sure how well they work at what I presume are very low and very large interacting magnetic fields.

    Thumbs up for explaining how some of the signs of leaving the solar system could be detected and not others.

    As a physicist observed about another debate "We are in a state of such confusion we will definitely learn something"

    1. MrT

      Pioneer probes also provided some earlier data...

      ... McKibben at al noted that the boundary layer pulses in response to the solar minimum/maximum by as much as 150AU, (paper here). Also, we're observing that the sun is about to go through a magnetic inversion. The heliopause might catch up and pass Voyager again.

      The press reporting seems to expect something definitive, like a 'wall' in space, but that's a silly analogy - it's more like a sponge that soaks and dries out, with occasional big squeezes when it all lines up together. Voyager is just taking another wash on the edge of the solar system basin... nothing like a wall.

      :-)

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: Pioneer probes also provided some earlier data...

        Just what is the speed of gravity anyway?

        1. squigbobble
          Go

          Re: Pioneer probes also provided some earlier data...

          AFAIK it's same as the speed of light.

          1. Grave

            Re: Pioneer probes also provided some earlier data...

            isnt speed of light the limiting factor of current measurement methods based on observation models?

        2. Jtom

          Re: Pioneer probes also provided some earlier data...

          Believe it or not, if it took gravity any time to reach us, the earth would be orbiting where the sun WAS when the gravity left the sun. Regardless of the time involved, the result would be an unsustainable orbit. We would spiral into the sun or off into space. Every appropriate experiment shows that earth's orbit is around where the sun really is. So you have a choice, either gravity is instantaneous, or gravity as a 'thing' doesn't exist, but is actually a curvature of space caused by mass -as postulated by Einstein. Or maybe something even stranger...

      2. Mike Flugennock
        Alien

        Re: Pioneer probes also provided some earlier data...

        "...The press reporting seems to expect something definitive, like a 'wall' in space, but that's a silly analogy..."

        Sounds like your average media clown has been watching too much Star Trek.

    2. Paul Kinsler Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: We are in a state of such confusion we will definitely learn something"

      Such as: "Actually, we have learned that we are even more confused than previously thought!" :-)

    3. ian 22

      Re: So Voyager 1 and 2 will constitute the *only* datasets for this problem

      Very likely there will be no sharp transition to be found, much like the 'transition' from Earth's atmosphere to outer space. Last I had heard, space begins at 100km altitude, because it is a nice round number, but atmosphere is still detectable beyond that point.

      We may simply define interstellar space as beginning at some distance agreed upon, again much like "wogs begin at Calais".

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: So Voyager 1 and 2 will constitute the *only* datasets for this problem

        Very likely there will be no sharp transition to be found, much like the 'transition' from Earth's atmosphere to outer space. Last I had heard, space begins at 100km altitude, because it is a nice round number, but atmosphere is still detectable beyond that point."

        I agree. There will always be debate, even if there is a consensus definition, about where the edge of the solar system is. It will always be an arbitrarily defined sphere simply because it's not a "wall". The location of where the solar wind balances out against incoming "galactic wind" is sure to vary over time so the definition of the edge of the solar system is, by definition, a variable within limits.

        Who's to say that the consensus won't evolve to be the out reaches of Plutos orbit? Or some other arbitrary factor.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon

          Re: So Voyager 1 and 2 will constitute the *only* datasets for this problem

          I'm starting to get flashbacks to 'A Fire Upon the Deep' here.

      2. Mike Flugennock

        Re: So Voyager 1 and 2 will constitute the *only* datasets for this problem

        "Very likely there will be no sharp transition to be found, much like the 'transition' from Earth's atmosphere to outer space..."

        Good point. This is why many cite the altitude record-setting X15 flights as "space" flights as they reached or exceeded 100km:

        http://www.astronautix.com/flights/x15ght91.htm

        "...Unofficial world altitude record. Maximum Speed - 6105 kph. Maximum Altitude - 107960 m. Second X-15 astronaut flight (FAI definition); fifth astronaut wings flight (USAF definition)..."

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Jim jimminy jim jim jim jim
    Coat

    Carbon Units

    This Carbon Unit for one will quietly await V'gers return to be dealt with by Kirk, Spock et al

  7. Chicken Marengo
    Happy

    Good Stuff

    Nearly four decades on, Voyager is still bringing us new discoveries and pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge.

    Who thinks Voyager should get the Nobel prize for Physics?

  8. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Alien

    They expect a customs barrier?

    They make it sound like they're expecting the craft to come across a big fence with a border crossing checkpoint on it, with a little green man in a flying saucer waiting to check its passport. Plus probably a big sign saying "the Universe welcomes careful fliers" or something.

    1. ElNumbre
      Thumb Up

      Re: They expect a customs barrier?

      It almost sounds like they're expecting a demarcation point as accurately defined as the US Canada border, even in the wilderness.

      (If you've never seen the pictures, whack 'forest border between United States and Canada' into your favorite image search engine).

      1. Mike Flugennock

        Re: They expect a customs barrier?

        Y'mean, like this one?

        That's just friggin' sad, man.

        1. Martin Budden Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: They expect a customs barrier?

          Yup, that is just friggin' sad.

          Worse still, you're not even allowed intimate contact with your significant other while cross-border rambling.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: They expect a customs barrier?

      As far as I'm concerned it's all good as long as I don't hear a news report claiming "scientists say this morning's unprecedented solar eclipse is no cause for alarm."

    3. Mike Flugennock

      Re: They expect a customs barrier?

      Well said. It's not exactly The Truman Show out there.

  9. Elmer Phud

    Parents eh?

    FFS, just let the kid go find its own mates for once -- I didn't know it had an ASBO and was tagged.

    (I expect Dr Evil to be along soon with a secondhand space vehicle capture machine bought cheaply off Ebay from 'BondH8er' )

  10. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
    Happy

    Clearly we need more research. Let's build some more Voyagers.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Thumb Up

      "Clearly we need more research. Let's build some more Voyagers."

      Well...

      One of the NIAC presentations to NASA was an investigation into (IIRC) using solar sails for this and with a Voyager sized payload they reckoned they could get from Earth to where Voyager is in about 10 years, not 35 to 40 years.

      IIf you did that a Voyager 2.0 mission could do this one of 2 ways. 1)Same instrument suite but implemented with modern technology, giving the same capability at much smaller size (handy as there are no more Titans available, although a Delta IV Heavy would probably as well, and a F9H definitely would help). JPL has been busy in 4 decades gradually whittled the weight down quite a bit.

      Or keep them and add a bunch more.

      I'll take a wild stab here and say they won't be staying with the the nibble serial 16 bit CMOS processor (1 4 bit ALU chip with lots of registers clocked at 4KHz. No that 's not a typo) architecture.

      1. M Gale
        Headmaster

        Nybble!

        Because it's half a byte, see?

        Oh those witty early IT types.

      2. Martin Budden Silver badge

        Re: "Clearly we need more research. Let's build some more Voyagers."

        One of the NIAC presentations to NASA was an investigation into (IIRC) using solar sails for this and with a Voyager sized payload they reckoned they could get from Earth to where Voyager is in about 10 years, not 35 to 40 years.

        I think I can see an issue with using solar sails: beyond the heliopause they become interstellar-medium sails and the probe gets blown back again. Or way off course. Or somewhere.

        1. JCitizen
          Boffin

          Re: "Clearly we need more research. Let's build some more Voyagers."

          "I think I can see an issue with using solar sails: beyond the heliopause they become interstellar-medium sails and the probe gets blown back again. Or way off course. Or somewhere."

          No problem - eject said solar sails, and switch to nuclear power.

    2. Super Fast Jellyfish
      Go

      Deffo

      Rev it up! Lets not bothering to take too many pics on the way out. Perhaps perpendicular to the eclipse this time? Can you imagine a true top down view of the solar system?

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Quiet ! Science is progressing.

    Concerning the heliosphere, we know nothing, for the time being we only have educated guesses.

    Now we are learning about it while going through it - it is going to take some time and there will be heated debate before a consensus is reached. So let us just note that new theories about the heliosphere are forming, which is a good thing, and monitor scientific progress for the next five years without worrying too much about it.

    In the next decade, scientists will have worked it out. In the meantime, it's just too soon to comment.

  12. Alister

    Does nobody watch those old documentaries anymore??

    If you did you'd know Voyager is in the Delta Quadrant, and has been for years!

    1. Unicornpiss

      Didn't you see the final episode?

      comment

      1. Alister

        Re: Didn't you see the final episode?

        Nah, that was all just a dream...

  13. Unicornpiss

    Can't we just agree...

    That it's really, really far away from our tenuous little bubble of air and that it's worked amazingly well? I hope I live a long, long life and that the Voyager probes outlive me.

    1. Ryleh
      Alien

      Re: Can't we just agree...

      6 centuries from now the Earth will get an Penalty Charge Notice from little green Enforcement Officer for littering and a court summons with note of 2500 space credits and possible criminal record for space littering.

      Then we gonna get some green ballifs coming in and impounding moon for non paying up!

      1. Darryl

        Re: Can't we just agree...

        Either that, or a call from Voyager saying he's in an interstellar holding cell for crossing the border without proper papers

  14. Steve Mann

    Bah!

    If the so-called "scientists" had concentrated on agreeing to and writing down the radius of The Solar System instead of bickering about stupid stuff like how Pluto isn't a planet this would be a non issue.

    But then what would these useless wastes of astrophysical space argue about?

    >8oP

    1. Anakin
      Mushroom

      Re: Bah!

      The solar system ends with the Oort cloud that reaches about 50000 AU from the sun

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oort_cloud

      You are an american?

      Only americans give a shit if Pluto is a planet or a plutoid.

      No matter what you call Pluto, it still orbiting the sun and don't give a shit what it's called

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: Bah!

        True enough. What the scientific argument is about is if the probes have left the magnetic bubble created by Sol.

        As for Pluto, doesn't matter where I observe it, even if it were under foot. This American firmly believes that it is simply a smallish chunk of rubble that isn't on anything resembling a planetary orbit that corresponds with the planets of this solar system.

        It's only rubble left behind from the old mass relay. ;)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jeez guys

    this is a bit heavy for Friday afternoon. Can't you run a story about Paris Hilton?

  16. Anakin
    FAIL

    That means that Sedna is not a part of our solar system?

    Voyager 1 is about 125 AU from the sun.

    Sednas aphelium is about 1009 AU from the sun.

    Many of our comets aphelium is 10000 AU to 20000 AU from the sun

    Oorts cloud is reaches about 50000 AU or one light year from the sun

    Just because protons can not leave the sun's gravitational field does not mean that the solar system ends.

    It just means that the sun's gravitational field really reach out there and even longer.

    Wake me when Voyager 1 actually leaves the solar system.

    It ought to be about year 16,013 after Christ

  17. Wzrd1

    What we absolutely know for certain is that Voyager is most definitely outside of the solar system. Unless it's still inside of the solar system.

    The only way we'll be certain is with a shitload more measurements over the course of months to years, possibly even a decade.

    But, for each inch the probes move outward, we forge new scientific measurements and new firsts.

  18. Jtom

    Oh, great. Yet another porous border for illegal aliens to gain entry...

    1. jake Silver badge

      @Jtom

      idiot

      EOF

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