2 of 28Image
Space pioneer Voyager 1 has gone where no man-made object has gone before. The tiny spacecraft continues on its 36-year mission, 12 billion miles from Earth, traveling into interstellar space - outside of our solar system.
Interstellar space is the area between stars and contains plasma that originated from the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Voyager is now encountering solar wind which is plasma that originated from our sun. For example, a coronal mass ejection from the sun in March, 2012 reached Voyager in April, 2013 and its effect allowed scientists to determine that Voyager had crossed the threshold of interstellar space.
"Now that we have new, key data, we believe this is mankind's first encounter into interstellar space," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "We literally jumped out of our seats when we saw these oscillations in our data."
This gallery, which was last updated in June 2013, contains the most incredible images from Voyager 1 and it's twin, Voyager 2 - from the launch in 1977 to their encounter with the giant planets of our solar system. Voyager 2 is also keeping communication with Earth and is about 15 billion miles away.
Both spacecraft send signals on a daily basis at about 23 watts or the power needed by a refrigerator light bulb. By the time the signals, traveling at the speed of light, get to Earth 17 hours later, they are a fraction of a billion-billionth of a watt. Here's what Voyager information sounds like.
The image above is most likely what Voyager 1 looks like.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image shows the path taken by Voyager 1. While in the heliosphere which is the edge of a bubble around our solar system it was boosted by solar winds that travel at "supersonic speeds until [they cross] a shockwave called the termination shock," according to NASA. This is the dark blue area that Voyager 1 entered in December 2004.
The heliosheath (gray) is where the solar wind slows down and heats up. When Voyager 1 passed this area, it encountered interstellar winds, indicating it left the solar system. The area where the interstellar wind meets the heliosphere is called a bowshock and is indicated by the yellow area.
Here's a look at human-made spacecraft and their relative distance from the sun in 2011: Voyager 1 — 10.9 billion miles; Pioneer 10 — 9.6 billion miles; Voyager 2 — 8.8 billion miles; and Pioneer 11 — 7.8 billion miles. This map also shows the New Horizons spacecraft, which is about 2 billion miles from Earth, and on its way to Pluto.
As we indicated Voyager 1 is now about 16 billion miles from Earth while Voyager 2 is about 15 billion miles from Earth.