Home » Uncategorized » NASA’s shrinking solar system

NASA’s shrinking solar system

Artists impression of Voyager 1 at the edge of the Earth's solar system after a 33-year odyssey. Photo: NASA/JPL

NASA is redrawing models of our solar system as their Voyager 1 spacecraft reaches the cusp of interstellar space ahead of schedule.

But this isn’t the first time the Voyagers have disrupted scientific prediction and theory. Launched in the summer of 1977, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were originally intended for four-year missions to observe Saturn and Jupiter. “But [they’re] still returning data 33 years later,” says Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Here’s a few of the probes’ textbook-changers from over the years.

  • The two Voyagers worked in unison with one another to discover actively erupting volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon “Io,” as well as rifts and kinks in Saturn’s rings from the gravitational pull of the planet’s moons. In 1980, with the original mission complete, the Voyager 2 continues onward while Saturn’s pull curves the Voyager 1’s trajectory away from the ecliptic, or the plane on which most planets orbit the sun.
  • To take advantage of a planetary alignment that happens once every 176 years, the Voyager 2’s mission was updated to fly by and explore Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989, discovering Neptune’s Great Dark Spot and 1,000-mile-per-hour winds and geysers erupting from the nitrogen ice that forms the polar cap of the planet’s moon “Triton.”
  • In December of 2004, the Voyager 1 left the heliosphere – the solar wind bubble – and entered the heliosheath, the outer shell of our sun’s sphere of influence. Travelling at 38,000 mph to Voyager 2’s 35,000 mph and in different directions, the real surprise came when the Voyager 2 did the same in 2008. This proved the heliosphere isn’t a sphere at all, but instead an oblate spheroid (eggish).
  • June 2010, NASA scientists realized the solar winds emanating from the sun against the Voyager 1 had slowed to a halt. This means the craft is now far enough out – about 10.8 billion miles from the sun – that interstellar wind in the space between stars has greater influence on the vessel than our sun. “The solar wind has turned the corner,” says Stone. “Voyager 1 is getting close to interstellar space.”

Scientists waited for four more monthly readings before they were convinced the solar wind’s outward speed actually had slowed to zero. It has remained at zero since June, proving the heliosheath to be thinner than predicted.

The current mission of Voyagers is to reach the edge of interstellar space, which they estimate the Voyager 1 will do within the next four years.


About Raggy Jin

Check Also


Try Oculus Rift And Wii To Roam Around On The Back To The Future Hoverboard

Check out how you can fly in virtual space by using an Oculus Rift and a Wii Balance Board.


Amazon Appstore for Android Holiday Deals, Including Free Apps

There are tons of deals from the Amazon Appstore that will be offered starting now and throughout the holiday shopping season. They say that they will have "hundreds of titles that are eitehr free... or available between 50-90% off" the regular price.


Black Friday: Google Play Store Apps, Games and Content on Sale All Weekend

Case in point, if you head over to the Google Play Store right now, you'll find that Google is celebrating all Cyber Weekend with discounts on all sorts of content. This includes many popular apps and games


Black Friday Deal: Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1-Inch for $100 Off

Did you manage to score any epic Black Friday deals this morning? Are you still ...


Arduino Co-Creator Releases Plans for $200 DIY Mobile Phone

Mellis was one of the people who came up with the now hugely popular Arduino platform and now he has come up with plans for people to build their own cell phone for about $200 in parts.


No Discounts for Apple Black Friday, Just Free Gift Cards

If you were hoping to save yourself some cash as you brave the Black Friday shopping crowds, you'll want to go somewhere other than the official Apple Stores.

  • vivek

    how is solar system shrinking?

    • http://Www.readwrite.co.UK Ukhamlet

      @vivek, … They meant metaphorically shrinking

  • Britch

    I think all of this stuff is absolutely amazing. Who everthinks that there isn’t life and stuff out there somewhere I’n or own galaxy or not is narrow minded. How can someone not believe that?

  • dan

    An oblate spheroid is not egg-ish. Egg-ish is ellipsoidal: a figure of rotation around an ellipse’ major axis. Oblate is around the minor axis.