Voyager 1 poised on space frontier

Dec. 4, 2012 at 5:00 PM

PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 4 (UPI) -- NASA says the Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a region at the edge of the solar system, a final frontier it has to cross before reaching interstellar space.

Scientists have dubbed the region a "magnetic highway" where charged particles where our sun's magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines, the space agency said.

The Voyager science team said it consider this region as still being inside our solar system because the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed.

When Voyager breaks through to interstellar space, they said, these magnetic field lines are predicted to change.

"Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space."

Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is now the most distant human-made object, about 11 billion miles away from the sun.

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The Sun's magnetic field and releases of plasma directly affect Earth and the rest of the solar system. Solar wind shapes the Earth's magnetosphere and magnetic storms are illustrated here as approaching Earth. These storms, which occur frequently, can disrupt communications and navigational equipment, damage satellites, and even cause blackouts. The white lines represent the solar wind; the purple line is the bow shock line; and the blue lines surrounding the Earth represent its protective magnetosphere. The magnetic cloud of plasma can extend to 30 million miles wide by the time it reaches earth. UPI/SOHO/ESA/NASA
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