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Mysterious data from interstellar space

Mysterious data from interstellar space

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NASA's Voyager 1 probe has been discreetly communicating with experts on Earth since November. (Illustration) © IMAGO / StockTrek Images

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is sending data back to Earth after a six-month hiatus. But the cause of the connectivity problems remains a mystery.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has begun sending scientific data from space to Earth again after about six months of communication problems. However, the cause of the problem remains a mystery because the probe is too far away to allow a detailed examination. However, there is a possibility that the problem is related to the area where the probe is located.

Since 2012, Voyager 1 has been traveling through interstellar space, a region of the universe no longer affected by the Sun. In 2020, the probe's magnetometer observed a sudden increase in the intensity of magnetic fields, while at the same time the plasma detector recorded an increase in plasma density. In the past, such measurements would return to normal after a few months, but this was not the case in 2020.

NASA's Voyager 1 probe is in interstellar space

Some scientists believe that short-term fluctuations in measurements could be due to flows of plasma emanating from the Sun and hitting the heliosphere boundaries. This may have created waves that compressed the interstellar plasma and temporarily strengthened magnetic fields. Adam Szabo, principal investigator for the Voyager 1 magnetometer, speculates To the news portal Science.orgthat the 2020 probe may have entered a small cloud of ancient interstellar plasma that carries the star's stronger magnetic field.

The heliosphere, heliosphere, and interstellar space

Heliosphere: The sun's field of influence in space. Here the solar wind and the Sun's magnetic fields are effective and displace the interstellar medium.

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Heliopoise: The heliosphere is the outer limit of the heliosphere. Behind it begins interstellar space, where the Sun no longer has any influence on the interstellar medium.

Interstellar space: Interstellar space is the region in interstellar space, no star has any influence there, and the space is filled with the interstellar medium. These include gas and dust as well as cosmic and electromagnetic radiation.

What area does Voyager 1 actually fly through? Researchers haven't decided yet

Some researchers suspect that the region is a pressure wave of solar origin, while others believe that Voyager 1 has not yet completely left the heliosphere. Researchers are now curious to know whether Voyager 1 is still recording high levels after a six-month communications blackout. If so, that indicates the probe is still flying through the cloud, making it a “really huge area,” Szabo said.

Outside the protective heliosphere, Voyager 1 is exposed to galactic cosmic radiation (very fast charged particles). NASA suspects that the collision of such a particle may have caused the probe's communication problem in November 2023. At that time, Voyager 1 began sending unusual code to Earth.

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft will only operate for a few more years

The scientific data that Voyager 1 sends back to Earth after repairs is invaluable. Aside from the two Voyager probes, there are no other space probes that send data from interstellar space. It will be decades before another mission reaches this region of the universe. So everyone involved is very relieved that Voyager 1 is operational again, as the probe only has a few years of power left.

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NASA's probe uses the heat of decaying plutonium as a power source, and is expected to operate for only six years. To save energy, six of the 10 tools have already been turned off, and more could follow. (unpaid bill)