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Voyager 1 to become first man-made object to leave solar system (+video)

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is now poised to become the first craft to enter interstellar space.

By Space.com StaffSpace.com / June 18, 2012

Artist's concept of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 at the edge of the solar system.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has encountered a new environment more than 11 billion miles from Earth, suggesting that the venerable probe is on the cusp of leaving the solar system.

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More than 30 years after they were launched, NASA's two Voyager probes have traveled to the edge of the solar system and are on the doorstep of interstellar space.

The Voyager 1 probe has entered a region of space with a markedly higher flow of charged particles from beyond our solar system, researchers said. Mission scientists suspect this increased flow indicates that the spacecraft — currently 11.1 billion miles (17.8 billion kilometers) from its home planet — may be poised to cross the boundary into interstellar space.

"The laws of physics say that someday Voyager will become the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, but we still do not know exactly when that someday will be," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, in a statement.

"The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly," Stone added. "It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system's frontier." [Photos From NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 Probes]

Far-flung spacecraft

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, launched in 1977, tasked chiefly with studying Saturn, Jupiter and the gas giants' moons. The two spacecraft made many interesting discoveries about these far-flung bodies, and then they just kept going, checking out Uranus and Neptune on their way toward interstellar space.

They're not quite out of the solar system yet, however. Both are still within a huge bubble called the heliosphere, which is made of solar plasma and solar magnetic fields. This gigantic structure is about three times wider than the orbit of Pluto, researchers have said.

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