To Infinity and Beyond: Voyager 1 Nears Edge of the Solar System

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Illustration of the Voyager 1 spacecraft

Time Life Pictures

It’s been a 33-year trip without so much as a pit stop for the Voyager.

As the spacecraft propels itself further into deep space, the learning adventure for scientists continues.

At a current distance of 10.8 billion miles from Earth, Voyager 1 is signaling to its handlers that it’s almost at the reaches of our Solar System. The latest news from the Voyager’s location is that the solar wind has slowed to zero.

(See TIME’s 1979 story about Voyager 1’s Jupiter encounter.)

The solar wind is made up of particles that have spun off of the sun and traveled through the Solar System. At Voyager 1’s current location, these protons and electrons are encountering resistance from particles from other stars outside the Solar System, causing them to slow to a halt.

The Voyager is continuing to hurl itself toward the Great Unknown at 38,000 miles per hour. The next milestone scientists are eagerly awaiting is the day the craft crosses the heliosphere, the barrier between our Solar System and the rest of the universe. “We had no idea how far we would have to travel to get outside the Solar System. We now know that in roughly five years, we should be outside for the first time,” said Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist.

(See a review of the recent book about the Voyager spacecrafts.)

A 33-year-old dog that’s still learning new tricks. If only our terrestrial technology had that sort of lifespan. (via BBC)