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Voyager 2 Spacecraft

August 20, 2012 by  

Voyager 2 Spacecraft, The Voyager 2 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram (1,592 lb) space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space. Operating for 34 years, 11 months and 30 days as of today (19 August 2012), the spacecraft receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network.

Part of the Voyager program with its identical sister craft Voyager 1, the spacecraft is currently in extended mission, tasked with locating and studying the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space. The primary mission ended December 31, 1989 after encountering the Jovian system in 1979, Saturnian system in 1980, Uranian system in 1986, and the Neptunian system in 1989. It was the first probe to provide detailed images of the outer gas giants.

Scientists who have for years been closely following Voyager 1’s slow drift into the interstellar region of the Milky Way had a false alarm last month when the 35-year-old spacecraft measured a drop in solar particles that they were sure was a sign it had finally exited our solar system.

“When we saw it drop, we said, ‘Oh, oh, this it it.’ It turns out it wasn’t, but it was certainly the first time we’ve seen something that might have been it,” said Edward Stone, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the chief scientist for the Voyager mission, run out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech.

Instruments on the spacecraft measure the high-energy particles, accelerated to near-light speed by distant supernovas and black holes, that make up the cosmic rays seeping into the solar system from the interstellar region of the galaxy as well as the lower-energy particles within our solar system.

It is these measurements that help scientists determine how close to the edge of the solar system Voyager 1 is.

“The particles from inside [the solar system], they’ve been pretty steady for the last seven years, and then on July 28, in a matter of about 12 hours, their intensity dropped to half, and it remained at that lower level until Aug. 1,” Stone said.

“That was the first time in seven years that we’ve seen anything like that. It was very dramatic.”

Voyager 1 was launched from Earth on Sept. 5, 1977, and is now about 18 billion kilometres from Earth and 121 times as far from the sun as Earth is, the only human-made object to have travelled that far into space.

Its partner spacecraft, Voyager 2, launched Aug. 20, 1977, is about three billion kilometres behind Voyager 1.

“The latest data from Voyager 1 indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing quickly,” said Stone.

“This is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system’s final frontier.”

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