Solar System's Edge Mystifies Scientists

Voyager 1 reaches outer limits and smashes old theories

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 29, 2013 9:13 AM CDT

(Newser) – Voyager 1 may not have exited our solar system, but it's throwing scientists some unexpected curve balls from 11 billion miles away, reports the Los Angeles Times. The spacecraft is now in a strange zone known as the "magnetic highway," and nothing out there seems to be behaving the way scientists expect it should, according to three new studies in the journal Science. Specifically, the interplay of solar winds, galactic cosmic rays, and the magnetic field has scientists scratching their heads.

“The models that have been thought to predict what should happen are all incorrect,” says a Johns Hopkins physicist who authored one of the studies. “We essentially have absolutely no reliable roadmap of what to expect at this point.” Wired uses an analogy to help explain the confusion, playing off one scientist's remark about Voyager still being "inside the sun's house," that is, in our solar system.

  • "It’s almost as if Voyager thought it was going outside but instead found itself standing in the foyer of the sun’s home with an open door that allows wind to blow in from the galaxy. Not only were scientists not expecting this foyer to exist, they have no idea how long the probe will stay inside of it."
So when might the spacecraft, which launched in 1977 and thus stores its data on an eight-track, leave that foyer for interstellar space? "It could be any day, but it could be several years," says the latter scientist, reports the BBC.

This artist rendering provided by NASA shows Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system.   (AP Photo/NASA)
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