NASA's Voyager 2 space probe has officially left our solar system and entered interstellar space. Now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft has crossed the boundary of the bubble-like heliosphere around the planets and is no longer touched by the plasma wind from our sun. Voyager 2's twin Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012 and continues to send back valuable scientific data via the Deep Space Network.
"I think we're all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "This is what we've all been waiting for. Now we're looking forward to what we'll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause."
Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA's longest running mission.
The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth's culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.
Last year, my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad and I released the Voyager Golden Record on vinyl for the first time ever and were blown away to win a Grammy Award for the box set. It's really a testament to the creators of the original Voyager Record and the scientists and engineers behind the absolutely incredible Voyager mission. We were honored to have had the opportunity to bring this stellar artifact to a wider terrestrial audience.
Go Johnny go!
above: "This illustration shows the position of NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto." (NASA/JPL-Caltech)