Following in the footsteps of its twin, Voyager 1, NASA’s Voyager 2 space probe is nearing the edge of our solar system and may soon disappear into interstellar space.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the Voyager 1 spacecraft crossed the boundary of the heliosphere — the vast protective bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields stretching around the sun and its planets — in August 2012.
After a period of six years, it looks like its sibling may be ready to join it and venture outside the borders of the solar system, NASA announced earlier today.
Launched a little over four decades ago, in 1977, Voyager 2 has spent the last 11 years flying through the heliosheath, or the outermost layer of the heliosphere.
The spacecraft is currently just under 11 billion miles (about 17.7 billion kilometers) from our planet. That’s more than 118 times the distance from Earth to the sun, making Voyager 2 the second farthest space probe ever launched from Earth.
While traveling that far from home, the spacecraft has picked up a set of readings that suggest it might be about to reach the outer boundary of the heliosphere, known as the heliopause, and cross over into interstellar space.
The detection in question occurred in late August and revealed an increased rate of cosmic rays coming from outside of our solar system. The readings showed that the spacecraft was being exposed to five percent more high-energy cosmic rays than at the beginning of August.
“Detecting an increase in cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system, the Voyager 2 satellite could be reaching interstellar space. Once there, it will be only the second human-made object to leave the vast bubble of influence from our sun,” NASA tweeted a few hours ago.
Detecting an increase in cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system, the @NASAVoyager 2 satellite could be reaching interstellar space. Once there, it will be only the 2nd human-made object to leave the vast bubble of influence from our Sun. Info: https://t.co/OASEkwm0ZI pic.twitter.com/u1pjRPRczf— NASA (@NASA) October 5, 2018
According to the space agency, the measurement was recorded by two instruments on board Voyager 2, the Cosmic Ray Subsystem and the Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument.
“We’re seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there’s no doubt about that,” said Ed Stone, a Voyager project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena.
Since Voyager 1 had a similar experience three months before slipping outside of the heliopause — after which point the detections dramatically intensified, hinting that the spacecraft exited the solar system, explained NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California — there’s a good chance that Voyager 2 could be next. This would make it the second man-made probe to explore the interstellar space.
Nevertheless, NASA pointed out that the new readings don’t represent a definite confirmation that Voyager 2 is about to go interstellar. Although the spacecraft seems to be mirroring the events that took Voyager 1 beyond our solar system, the twin probes didn’t pass through the same location in the heliosheath, meaning that they “may experience a different exit timeline.”
“We’re going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don’t know when we’ll reach the heliopause,” stated Stone. “We’re not there yet — that’s one thing I can say with confidence.”