NASA's Voyager 1 cruises the magnetic highway, gets closer to interstellar space

This still image show NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft exploring a new region in our solar system called the "magnetic highway."

NASA’s Voyager 1 has been chugging along since 1977 to become the farthest-traveling spacecraft in human history. Currently, Voyager 1 is more than 17.9 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) away from our sun, and it's traveling at about 35,700 miles per hour.

At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, NASA announced that Voyager 1 entered a newly discovered region known as the “magnetic highway.” NASA scientists theorize this is the last region of our Solar System before the probe enters interstellar space, or the space between stars.

The region is called the magnetic highway because the Sun’s magnetic field lines run parallel to interstellar magnetic field lines. The pathway allows low-energy particles produced by our sun to escape into deep space while higher-energy intergalactic particles stream in.

The team says it knows Voyager 1 is still in the system’s solar bubble because the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed. However, Edward Stone, a Voyager project scientist, believes that Voyager will finish “the last leg of [its] journey to interstellar space," and that the probe will exit the Solar System sometime between "a few months to a couple years" from now.

“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment,” Stone said in a release from NASA, “we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway."

[NASA via The Verge]

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