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Voyager Is Such a Tease

Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 03:31 PM

Image of Voyager 1. Image of Voyager 1. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech./NASA)

So, yesterday my heart skipped a tiny beat. 

If you heard my story about the Voyager Interstellar Mission in our Escape! episode, you know I’ve been patiently waiting for the moment when one of the Voyager crafts says bye-bye to our solar system and gets its first taste of interstellar medium.

Is There An Edge to the Heavens?

So yesterday...when I opened my email, there was a message for me from our Senior Producer with the following subject line:

“Elvis (by which I mean voyager) has left the building.”

I’ll just go ahead and spoil it for you guys: FALSE ALARM.

Real quick, a recap of what happened: a press release by the AGU got a little bold with its language and set off a Twitter frenzy (at one point in the day, I left my desk for about an hour and came back to find FIVE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE new tweets about Voyager waiting for me). The Atlantic got my vote for best headline of the day: "Chill Out, People: We Still Do Not Know If Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System"

Here’s a screen cap of the adjusted AGU release. And Time has some nice day-after analysis.

Of course, I had to call Merav Opher, the scientist who gave us such great info about Voyager for our original story. She told me that, so far, the transition from our solar system to not-our-solar-system hasn’t been as clear-cut as she expected.

“It is like an opera,” she said. “They sing, I'm going! I'm going! Takes 20 minutes until they leave.”

Guess I’ll just have to keep waiting for the fat lady to sing. At least I know the entire internet is waiting with me.

P.S. If you, like me, want your Voyager news on a pretty-much-constant basis, you can track both V1 and V2 in real-time here.


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Comments [3]

I heard Jad on "Whad' Ya Know" talking about Voyager being "stuck" in the edge of the heliopause. Michael Feldman quizzed Jad about what that meant, and Jad said that the spacecraft was going fast and now it wasn't. I think Jad needs a basic physics refresher. There's nothing out there slowing Voyager to any measureable degree. It's a body in motion that will stay in motion, per Newtonian mechanics. Kamen Kozarev's comment is correct and I think it suggests that Radiolab is often strong on story and weak on science facts. I'm fine with using metaphor to convey science ideas, but you can't use the right metaphors if you misunderstand the science.

I think Jad read or heard about the stagnation and the slow-down regions at the edge of the heliosphere. The stagnation and slowing down refers to the solar wind, not to the velocity of Voyager. Jad may understand this and misspoke on "Whad' Ya Know". The discussion is near the end of the interview if you want to hear it yourself:

Aug. 12 2013 08:07 PM
Bill Paladino


How about waiting for the universe to end so...?
See the late (d. 2001) Poul Anderson's novel 'Tau Zero' about a Bussard
ramjet (starship) stuck at 99.99999% light speed!


Bill Paladino
Kings Park, NY

Wiki link:

Mar. 31 2013 08:37 PM
Kamen Kozarev from Boston, MA

Hey, Radiolab. Let's get something clear - Voyager I is about to leave the heliosphere, which is the 'sphere' (not perfectly spherical) of influence of the Sun's plasma (the solar wind) and radiation; not the Solar System, which is literally the sphere of gravitational influence of the Sun. The Solar System includes the Oort cloud of stuff orbiting the Sun, which is about a thousand times farther than the edge of the heliosphere.
This is a perfect opportunity for people to be told what the solar wind is, that there are magnetic fields, and particles, and so on :)

Mar. 21 2013 08:02 PM

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