NASA’s Voyager 2, Launched in 1977, Reaches Interstellar Space

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NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft have been travelling the interstellar road for more than 40 years, sweeping past the giant planets of the outer solar system before heading to the very fringes of our sun's domain.

Mission controllers were alerted to Voyager 2 entering interstellar space in November when its instruments detected a dramatic change in the space particles surrounding the spacecraft. Voyager 2 and its sibling spacecraft, Voyager 1, are the farthest-travelled spacecraft, as they are both more than 11 billion miles from Earth, NASA officials said in a press release. At Voyager 2's enormous distance from the sun, it took 16-and-a-half hours for the data to make its way back to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

This illustration shows the position of NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. The space agency said Voyager 2 will leave the Oort Cloud, "a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun's gravity", in approximately 30,000 years, so it is still being influenced by the Sun's gravity to some extent.

This was because the planned route for Voyager 2 was significantly longer, with it being set on a flyby course with numerous outer planets, revealing the first close-ups and important scientific data on planets such as Saturn, Neptune and Uranus.

"The Voyager spacecraft are now ahead of that wave in the clear air of interstellar space".

No one is sure how big the Oort Cloud is, but estimates suggest it starts at about 1,000 Earth-sun distances, or astronomical units (AU), and stretches out to about 100,000 AU.

Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages, which aims to serve as evidence of Earth's civilisation.

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As they traveled further into space, the gap between them grew, each taking different paths on their way out to eternity.

However, just because the probes have left the heliosphere doesn't mean they have left our solar system. While the heliosphere does encompass the sun and all of the planets in our solar system, there are still comets and other objects outside of the heliosphere that remain a part of our solar system.

Ms Dodd said: "It would be super-exciting to have a 50-year mission still operating".

Project officials are hopeful that this new era can last for several years, despite the age of the two Voyager spacecraft.

The first device in history that left the heliosphere, was the "Voyager-1". "Your smartphone has 200,000 times more memory than what the Voyager spacecraft have", says Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd, which helps put the evolution of space technology since Voyager's launch into perspective.

Together, Voyagers 1 and 2 will provide astronomers on Earth with clues about what lies beyond the heliosphere and what the area outside of the sun's influence might be like.

The Voyager probes were created to last just 5 years and were equipped to investigate Jupiter and Saturn. Of course, as Voyager 2 pulls farther away, that time will only increase eventually to a point where it will be no longer possible with its radioactive power source running out.