NASA′s Voyager ′exits′ the solar system | News | DW | 20.03.2013
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NASA's Voyager 'exits' the solar system

A new study says NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft appears to have left the solar system, 35 years after its initial launch into space. But its exact location remains debated and NASA has denied it has left the solar system.

More than three decades after it embarked on a mission to explore the planets, NASA's unmanned Voyager 1 spacecraft appeared to be outside of the solar system and located in a "new region" of space, said a study Wednesday.

According to research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Voyager 1 exited the solar system in 2012 some 18 billion kilometres (11 billion miles) from the sun, after years spent in the area known as the heliosphere - the border area between the solar system and inter-stellar space.

The American Geophysical Union, which distributes the journal, also shared the news on their website.

But shortly after the article appeared, NASA spokesman Dwayne Browne told the AFP news agency the report was "premature and incorrect."

Far far away

For months, scientists have been closely watching for clues that the spacecraft had left the solar system and most estimated it would likely happen in the next year or two.

Astronomers recorded sharp changes in radiation levels on August 25, 2012 as cosmic rays from the sun dropped to low levels and galactic cosmic rays from outside the solar system spiked.

"It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that," scientist Bill Webber and one of the article's authors said. "We're in a new region. And everything we're measuring is different and exciting."

However he also acknowledged that the actual location of the spacecraft remains a matter of debate. It could be in interstellar space or just an unknown region beyond the solar system.

A perpetual journey

Voyager 1 and its companion Voyager 2 were launched in 1977 on a mission to study planets. According to NASA the second Voyager was also on track to leave the solar system.

NASA has described both Voyager spacecrafts as "the two most distant active representatives of humanity and its desire to explore."

Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn in 1979 and 1980, and sent back the first detailed images of their moons. In 1990, Voyager took the first complete photo of the solar system.

It has spent recent years studying the heliosheath, which surrounds the outer edge of the solar system.

hc/kms(AFP, dpa)