Author Archives: John

Voyager: Pressure at the Edge of the System

One of these days we’ll have a spacecraft on a dedicated mission into the interstellar medium, carrying an instrument package explicitly designed to study what lies beyond the heliosphere. For now, of course, we rely on the Voyagers, both of which move through this realm, with Voyager 1 having exited the heliosphere in August of 2012 and Voyager 2, on a much different trajectory, making the crossing in late 2018. Data from both spacecraft are filling in our knowledge of the heliosheath, where the solar wind is roiled by the interstellar medium.

A new study of this transitional region has just appeared, led by Jamie Rankin (Princeton University), using comparative data from the time when Voyager 2 was still in the heliosheath and Voyager 1 had already moved into interstellar space. Leaving the heliosheath, the pressure of the Sun’s solar wind is affected by particles from other stars, and the magnetic influence of our star effectively ends. What the scientists found is that the combined pressure of plasma, magnetic fields, ions, electrons and cosmic rays is greater than expected at the boundary.

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