Solar Tsunami From The Sun Reaches Voyager I A Year Later

Robin Wirth - Author

Oct. 29 2016, Updated 5:48 p.m. ET

About a week ago, a large solar outburst from 2013 reached the position of Voyager I, confirming that the craft has entered the interstellar medium–the area just outside the Sun’s heliosphere, where its winds die down, but it still exerts a gravitational pull. The flare itself was part of a series of ‘tsunami’ flares, as the one shown in this video, which were emitted during 2013.

Considering the fact that Voyager I has taken 37 years to reach its current location, that tsunami must have been traveling pretty fast. But perhaps it may help if we brought the distance of Voyager I from the Sun into perspective, it might give you a better idea just how far away that is.

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1 AU, or astronomical unit, is the distance between the Sun and the Earth. One light year is the distance light travels in one year, about 9 trillion kilometers. Right now, Voyager is roughly 130 AU from the Sun after having been launched in 1977 from Earth. Scientists recently confirmed that the ship has reached the edge of the Sun’s heliosphere and is now entering an area known as the heliopause, where the solar winds are assumed to have little to no more effect. This distance was originally calculated to occur around 160 AU.

It is expected that Voyager would have to travel a full light year or more from its current position to reach the end of our solar system–probably 15 trillion kilometers or more, or roughly another thousand years of traveling at its current rate of speed.

Now, thinking about the fact it took the Voyager probe 37 years to travel to 130 AU, and it took the tsunami only one year, perhaps you can visualize just how much faster the tsunami traveled to get there.

The Voyager I space probe communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data to Earth, which is about 128 AU from its current position. It is the farthest spacecraft from Earth, and the first to leave the heliosphere and enter interstellar space.

It’s primary mission ended after it encountered Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980. It is now on its extended mission to locate and study the regions and boundaries of the outer heliosphere, and continue on to explore the interstellar medium. NASA expects to continue to receive data from the Voyager I probe until about 2025, when it’s generators will no longer be able to supply enough power to operate the instruments.


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