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Interstellar space news: Voyager I detects a hum in a supposedly empty area

Voyager I is the most distant human-made object from us: it was launched more than 40 years ago and is still in operation, revealing new data about deep space. The spacecraft reached beyond the limits of the solar system and crossed the heliopause, our border with interstellar space, in the year 2012 . Now, according to a work published in the journal Nature Astronomy , Voyager I’s measuring instruments have detected a constant hum coming from interstellar gas, a very relevant finding since it originates in an area that is theoretically empty.

Since 2017, the probe has detected a constant, persistent and long-lasting emission at a very low frequency. ” It’s a very faint, monotonous hum, because it’s in a narrow frequency bandwidth, ” explains Stella Koch Ocker, the Cornell University doctoral student who discovered the emission by analyzing data from Voyager I. ” We are detecting the persistent, faint hum of interstellar gas. “

Solar flares and much more

The Voyager I spacecraft was launched in September 1977. Since then it has marked several milestones in space exploration: in 1979 it flew over Jupiter, in late 1980 Saturn and in August 2012 it crossed the heliopause. Since then, the spacecraft’s plasma wave system has detected various disturbances in the gas caused by the Sun, but this emission is different and seems to come from a much smaller but constant amount of plasma and that indicates that in the supposed nothing of interstellar space there are also relevant quantities of this matter. It is a constant and persistent signature: “The interstellar medium would be like a drizzle,” explains James Cordes, lead author of the work. “In the case of a solar flare, it would be more like detecting lightning in the middle of a thunderstorm and then returning to the drizzle.”

According to the authors, this work improves our understanding of how the interstellar medium interacts with the solar wind, and how the protective bubble of the solar system’s heliosphere is shaped and modified by the interstellar environment. Scientists believe that this finding demonstrates that there is more low-level activity in interstellar gas than previously thought , and that the data that Voyager I (or new space missions to the interstellar medium) continues to send will allow the distribution to be traced. of the plasma when it is not being disturbed by solar flares.

“Continuous monitoring of the density of interstellar space is very important and never before have we had the opportunity to evaluate it. We now know that we do not need a random event related to the Sun to measure interstellar plasma , ”explains Shami Chatterjee, another of the authors.

The authors recall that Voyager I left Earth more than four decades ago and that it is sending us data with technology from the 1970s. “Scientifically, this research is a great feat, and a testament to the capabilities of the amazing Voyager spacecraft. I ”, they conclude.

Referencia: Ocker, S.K., Cordes, J.M., Chatterjee, S. et al. Persistent plasma waves in interstellar space detected by Voyager 1. Nat Astron (2021).


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