Nasa has attempted
to clear up confusion over whether the distant Voyager 1
probe is still in the solar system or is now in interstellar space.
The answer is apparently “both”.
The spacecraft launched in 1977 with a mission of finding out
more about the outer planets, and swung past Jupiter and Saturn
before heading into the inky blackness beyond. For several years
there have been conflicting headlines on whether it’s left the
solar system or not.
But now there’s a definitive answer. The probe is definitely in
interstellar space, proven by a recent coronal mass ejection that
shook the plasma surrounding the spacecraft. The data from that
event shows that Voyager is now in plasma that’s 40 times denser
than measured before, which Nasa’s Whitney Clavin describes as “a
telltale indicator of interstellar space”.
But Nasa also maintains that the probe is still in the solar
system, as it has yet to pass the final halo of comets surrounding
our Sun, known as the Oort cloud. That feat will take between 14,000 and 28,000 years, so isn’t happening
Ultimately, this is a question of definitions — where does the
solar system end? For now Nasa is hedging its bets — Voyager is
between stars, but still within the Sun’s sphere of influence.
Until mankind can agree on a firm boundary, Voyager 1 will continue
to frolic across the periphery.