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Voyager 1 Leaves Our Solar System. Oh Well, Maybe Not

Update Date: Mar 20, 2013 08:23 PM EDT
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In an article published Wednesday, The American Geophysical Union claimed what astronomers have been waiting for more than a quarter of a century: “”Voyager 1 has left our Solar System.”

The article was based on the works of William R. Webber of New Mexico State University and Frank B. McDonald of the University of Maryland. August 25 last year, these two researchers had reported that the Voyager had observed a sudden change in the mix of cosmic rays hitting it.

Instruments onboard of Voyager had registered nearly a doubling of cosmic rays from outside the solar system, while the intensity of cosmic rays that had been trapped in the outer solar system dropped by 90 percent.

For Webber and Donald, the conclusion was unavoidable: “Voyager 1 has exited our Solar System.”

Now, this is a milestone – for the first time, humankind had ventured out of the limits of our sun and experienced the “outside” world. That was it. We have come of age. We are no longer children; we have moved out of our home, our comfort zone, into the unknown cosmos.

All was great, and it would have remained so if it wasn’t for NASA, decided to take upon themselves to be the killjoy. Barely three hours after the AGU article, NASA issued a statement distantiating themselves from the conclusions by Webber and McDonald.

Edward C. Stone, the Voyager project scientist, who came forth and with the disclaimer.

"The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA's Voyager 1 has left the solar system," said Stone, a veteran Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

"It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.

According to the NASA scientist, the fundamental indicator of Voyager leaving the Solar System would be a change in the direction of the magnetic field, not cosmic rays, for marking the outermost boundary of the solar system.

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