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Published: Monday, 9/23/2013

EDITORIAL

Alpha Centauri or bust

Voyager 1 spacecraft, which left Earth on Sept. 5, 1977, officially crossed into the badlands of interstellar space.

Ationalin Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists believe that on or around Aug. 25, 2012, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which left Earth on Sept. 5, 1977, officially crossed into the badlands of interstellar space.

About 11.5 billion miles into a journey that included scenic views of Jupiter and Saturn, along with the icy outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and the demoted Pluto, Voyager 1 is no longer subject to the vagaries of the sun’s solar winds.

After it completed its primary mission in 1989, the nuclear-powered probe lit out for parts unknown ahead of its twin, Voyager 2. Of the two probes, launched within weeks of each other, only Voyager 1 has escaped the confines of the heliosphere, the plasma shield that embraces every comet, asteroid, moon, and planet in our solar system.

The champagne would have come out a year ago, but there was debate — and still is in some quarters — about whether Voyager 1 had breached the heliosphere. Scientists were looking for more telltale signs that Voyager 1 had crossed into the unexplored region of space between our sun and the nearest star.

After scientists sifted the data, the new consensus is that Voyager 1 is enveloped in galactic plasma far beyond our sun’s solar bubble. It will continue transmitting data until its nuclear generator quits sometime after 2025.

After that, Voyager 1 will drift toward Alpha Centauri. That part of its tour will take another 40,000 years, if the cosmic winds are with it.

Because that celebration is so far off, maybe it’s time for humankind to pop the champagne anyway.



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