In 1977, U.S. space agency NASA launched Voyager 2 into space to explore the vastness of our universe. Now, about four decades later, the probe is reportedly nearing interstellar space.
Approaching interstellar space
Voyager 2 is currently about 11 billion miles away from Earth. This comes to approximately 118 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. For the first three decades, the probe was traveling inside the heliosphere, which is the bubble around the Sun and planets that is dominated by magnetic fields and solar material.
In 2007, Voyager 2 entered the outermost layer of the heliosphere. And now, it is close to breaching it and entering interstellar space. When this happens, it would make Voyager 2 the second man-made object to reach interstellar space, the first being Voyager 1.
Voyager 2’s approach to interstellar space is based on its readings of cosmic ray exposure. The probe is reportedly measuring higher rates of such rays hitting it, indicating the possibility that it is about to leave the heliosphere. However, scientists are taking a cautious approach as of now since increased cosmic ray exposure is not an absolute sign of entering interstellar space.
“We’re seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there’s no doubt about that. We’re going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don’t know when we’ll reach the heliopause. We’re not there yet — that’s one thing I can say with confidence,” NASA quotes Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone.
Built and operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the Voyager missions are managed by the agency’s Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Once Voyager 2 breaches the heliosphere, NASA will have two probes exploring the unknown region of space. And even though Voyager 2 is headed off in a different direction than Voyager 1, data from both these spacecraft should provide more detailed information about interstellar space.
Traveling interstellar space
Data from the Voyager probes will be of great help when human beings finally achieve the capability of interstellar travel. And NASA is currently involved in the process of creating the world’s first spacecraft that is capable of such travel, called the IXS Enterprise.
The project was revealed by NASA physicist and engineer Harold White. The spacecraft will feature a warp drive that enables it to travel at speeds faster than light, thanks to a loophole in Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Gizmodo explains how the warp drive will function: “Essentially, the empty space behind a starship would be made to expand rapidly, pushing the craft in a forward direction — passengers would perceive it as movement despite the complete lack of acceleration. White speculates that such a drive could result in “speeds” that could take a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a mere two weeks — even though the system is 4.3 light-years away.”
All that White is now waiting for is some kind of proof that validates the possibility of the warp drive. And once such a confirmation is received, it won’t be long before humans enter into a brand new era in space exploration where we become an interstellar species that travels billions of miles between a vast network of planets.