Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

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Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Dec 06, 2011 12:52 pm UTC

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-12-voy ... -edge.html

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NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space, which scientists are calling the stagnation region. In the stagnation region, the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has slowed and turned inward for the first time, our solar system's magnetic field has piled up and higher-energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space. This image shows that the inner edge of the stagnation region is located about 113 astronomical units (10.5 billion miles or 16.9 billion kilometers) from the sun. Voyager 1 is currently about 119 astronomical units (11 billion miles or 17.8 billion kilometers) from the sun. The distance to the outer edge is unknown. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space. Data obtained from Voyager over the last year reveal this new region to be a kind of cosmic purgatory. In it, the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has calmed, our solar system's magnetic field has piled up, and higher-energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.

"Voyager tells us now that we're in a stagnation region in the outermost layer of the bubble around our solar system," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Voyager is showing that what is outside is pushing back. We shouldn't have long to wait to find out what the space between stars is really like."

Although Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. In the latest data, the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, indicating Voyager is still within the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years.

The latest findings, described today at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco, come from Voyager's Low Energy Charged Particle instrument, Cosmic Ray Subsystem and Magnetometer.

Scientists previously reported the outward speed of the solar wind had diminished to zero in April 2010, marking the start of the new region. Mission managers rolled the spacecraft several times this spring and summer to help scientists discern whether the solar wind was blowing strongly in another direction. It was not. Voyager 1 is plying the celestial seas in a region similar to Earth's doldrums, where there is very little wind.

During this past year, Voyager's magnetometer also detected a doubling in the intensity of the magnetic field in the stagnation region. Like cars piling up at a clogged freeway off-ramp, the increased intensity of the magnetic field shows that inward pressure from interstellar space is compacting it.

Voyager has been measuring energetic particles that originate from inside and outside our solar system. Until mid-2010, the intensity of particles originating from inside our solar system had been holding steady. But during the past year, the intensity of these energetic particles has been declining, as though they are leaking out into interstellar space. The particles are now half as abundant as they were during the previous five years.

At the same time, Voyager has detected a 100-fold increase in the intensity of high-energy electrons from elsewhere in the galaxy diffusing into our solar system from outside, which is another indication of the approaching boundary.

"We've been using the flow of energetic charged particles at Voyager 1 as a kind of wind sock to estimate the solar wind velocity," said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "We've found that the wind speeds are low in this region and gust erratically. For the first time, the wind even blows back at us. We are evidently traveling in completely new territory. Scientists had suggested previously that there might be a stagnation layer, but we weren't sure it existed until now."

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are in good health. Voyager 2 is 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from the sun.


This is pretty interesting, I figured there are probably enough space enthusiasts here to be interested too.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Zamfir » Tue Dec 06, 2011 12:55 pm UTC

A mechanic space bug far larger than the sun is shooting a laser at Saturn!

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby elasto » Tue Dec 06, 2011 1:19 pm UTC

What would be really interesting is if it suddenly bumped into wooden hoardings Truman Show style...

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Dec 06, 2011 1:25 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:A mechanic space bug far larger than the sun is shooting a laser at Saturn!


The question is: For what purpose?

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Ghostbear » Tue Dec 06, 2011 1:39 pm UTC

AvatarIII wrote:
Zamfir wrote:A mechanic space bug far larger than the sun is shooting a laser at Saturn!


The question is: For what purpose?

Judging by the picture, there's a mirror system on Saturn directing that laser STRAIGHT TO THE EARTH!

More seriously, it's pretty amazing that we've been able to fire something that far into space. Or that we launched it in 1977, and it still works! It seems that most scientific functions of Voyager will last until ~2020. That's just an impressive bit of engineering all around- how many other things have we (as in humanity) made that need a constant source of power that can operate for over 30 years with zero maintenance?

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:05 pm UTC

elasto wrote:What would be really interesting is if it suddenly bumped into wooden hoardings Truman Show style...

I've been secretly wishing for a while now that the reverse happens, and it suddenly speeds up or finds some weird phenomena allowing inter-stellar travel (Well I suppose that's not so secret anymore). Yes, I know it's a dream. I'm allowed them sometimes.
Ghostbear wrote:More seriously, it's pretty amazing that we've been able to fire something that far into space. Or that we launched it in 1977, and it still works! It seems that most scientific functions of Voyager will last until ~2020. That's just an impressive bit of engineering all around- how many other things have we (as in humanity) made that need a constant source of power that can operate for over 30 years with zero maintenance?

Oh very definitely this. I worked in the satellite industry for a year and was utterly stunned at how reliable and durable space engineering can be.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Steax » Tue Dec 06, 2011 2:07 pm UTC

A question to those of you who understand detection systems better than I do:

If Voyager weren't sending back signals from space, how far would it be when we could last detect it (as in, "realizing it's there") using 2011-level tools?
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Dauric » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:02 pm UTC

Steax wrote:A question to those of you who understand detection systems better than I do:

If Voyager weren't sending back signals from space, how far would it be when we could last detect it (as in, "realizing it's there") using 2011-level tools?


Corollary question: Even with sending signals back, how far away can Voyager get before we're unable to detect it's signals?
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Jessica » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:35 pm UTC

If it's sending signals, I'm pretty sure that we can detect them at any range (just the delay gets longer and longer each time it sends something), unless something obstructs it (like a faraday cage). If it's not sending signals, we can't really track it, just make probable estimates of it's location.

At least this is my understanding from basic science memory.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Dauric » Tue Dec 06, 2011 3:44 pm UTC

Jessica wrote:If it's sending signals, I'm pretty sure that we can detect them at any range (just the delay gets longer and longer each time it sends something), unless something obstructs it (like a faraday cage). If it's not sending signals, we can't really track it, just make probable estimates of it's location.

At least this is my understanding from basic science memory.


Even in space there's signal degradation over distance, especially if as the article mentions (and assuming I'm understanding it correctly, which at the moment is a poor assumption) the probe is in a zone of space where there's a high concentration of charged particles, so the signal may encounter increased interference.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Jessica » Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:20 pm UTC

There might be signal degradation, but I'm not certain that charged particles can cause extra degradation. Again, I have the physics knowledge of an advanced high school graduate. But, I was pretty sure that magnetic fields really only affect charged particles, and radio is not charged.

I do know that light and radio waves from outside of where voyager is can reach earth, and we assume that light and radio waves have gone past where voyager is. Whether the signals are decipherable is a different question, and one that only nasa could really answer (as I don't know how they are transmitting data through the radio waves, and whether that data can be degraded beyond comprehensibility of our current computers).
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Dec 06, 2011 4:55 pm UTC

Jessica wrote:But, I was pretty sure that magnetic fields really only affect charged particles, and radio is not charged.

Erm, not quite.

Radio waves are electromagnetic waves. As in, they have an electric field component, and a magnetic one at right angles. Charged particles, by definition, have an associated electric field. If charged particles are oscillating (ie moving back and forth) in any fashion, their electric field will also oscillate. An oscillating electric/electromagnetic field is a radio-wave, or an X-ray, or laser beam, depending on the frequency. If two waves of roughly the same frequency cross paths, they will interfere with each other.

The problem with Voyager is not that its radio signals won't reach us, but that the signals from all those charged particles will also reach us, and potentially swamp the signal (Massively simplifying as I have to run to catch a train).

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Jessica » Tue Dec 06, 2011 5:57 pm UTC

Cool, thanks for the info on that :)
I knew I was missing some information.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:10 pm UTC

I was just wondering with a friend two days ago if Voyager had made it out of the solar system proper. Sounds like we may be on the cusp of learning some new and exciting information.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Roĝer » Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:15 pm UTC

If Voyager 1 would not be transmitting, and assuming the main method of detecting it from earth would be through its blackbody radiation, we have a power source of 420 W at 1.78×10¹⁰ km, which gives a brightness of 1×10⁻¹⁹ Wm⁻², or an apparent magnitude of 28. That is just visible for a big ground-based telescope, and easily for the Hubble (by 1.5 orders of magnitude).
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby SlyReaper » Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:16 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:I was just wondering with a friend two days ago if Voyager had made it out of the solar system proper. Sounds like we may be on the cusp of learning some new and exciting information.


The trouble comes with how you define the edge of the solar system. If it's the region where the dominant gravitational influence is the sun, there are still a few light years left to go. If it's the heliopause/heliosheath/bow shock/stagnation region/onion layer #2867, then it's somewhat closer.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:26 pm UTC

To get to a place where the sun is no longer the dominant gravitational force, wouldn't you have to get halfway to Proxima Centauri, pretending Proxima had an equally strong gravitational field?

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby SlyReaper » Tue Dec 06, 2011 7:37 pm UTC

Proxima is a red dwarf, but Alpha Centauri A and B are about a tenth of a LY behind it, and they have a combined mass of about two suns. So you wouldn't have to go as far as half way, but it would still be a distance measured in light years.

But of course Voyager 1 isn't heading in that direction, so that edge will be somewhat further out.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Steax » Wed Dec 07, 2011 1:36 am UTC

Roĝer wrote:If Voyager 1 would not be transmitting, and assuming the main method of detecting it from earth would be through its blackbody radiation, we have a power source of 420 W at 1.78×10¹⁰ km, which gives a brightness of 1×10⁻¹⁹ Wm⁻², or an apparent magnitude of 28. That is just visible for a big ground-based telescope, and easily for the Hubble (by 1.5 orders of magnitude).


So basically, if it were to stop transmitting now, we could still detect and track it for a while?
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Ghostbear » Wed Dec 07, 2011 2:11 am UTC

I suspect that tracking it without return signals is a lot easier than it nominally would be, because we know where in space it is. If it was just somewhere in the outer edges of the solar system, I expect we'd have rather difficult time finding it again to track it.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby stevey_frac » Wed Dec 07, 2011 2:17 am UTC

Jessica wrote:If it's sending signals, I'm pretty sure that we can detect them at any range (just the delay gets longer and longer each time it sends something), unless something obstructs it (like a faraday cage). If it's not sending signals, we can't really track it, just make probable estimates of it's location.

At least this is my understanding from basic science memory.


I *think* that even in space, the signal still going to get more and more spread out as it travels. This results in it some sort of signal loss that goes up with the square of the distance. I.e. When it's twice as far away, the signal strength will be 1/4 of what it is now. And at some point, the signal will slip beneath the noise floor, and we won't be able to tell anything.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby buddy431 » Wed Dec 07, 2011 4:08 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:
Jessica wrote:If it's sending signals, I'm pretty sure that we can detect them at any range (just the delay gets longer and longer each time it sends something), unless something obstructs it (like a faraday cage). If it's not sending signals, we can't really track it, just make probable estimates of it's location.

At least this is my understanding from basic science memory.


I *think* that even in space, the signal still going to get more and more spread out as it travels. This results in it some sort of signal loss that goes up with the square of the distance. I.e. When it's twice as far away, the signal strength will be 1/4 of what it is now. And at some point, the signal will slip beneath the noise floor, and we won't be able to tell anything.


The signal loss is both a function of the distance, but also the power of the signal. We'll lose the signal largely because the RTG will run down and the transmitting will weaken (in about 15-20 years), not because it will get too far away. For perspective, we were receiving telemetry from Pioneer 10 until 2002, 30 years after it was launched. Its RTGs generated only 155 W at launch, compared to the 470 W of the Voyagers.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Nerd Mike » Wed Dec 07, 2011 4:13 am UTC

I'm always wowed when we get new Voyager reports. I was seven when Voyager I launched, and I remember it clearly. It was one of the first things (maybe THE first thing) that sparked my lifelong love of all things space. It's inspiring.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Minerva » Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:22 am UTC

I love the fact that we can still control the Voyagers, and do good science with them today. Absolutely remarkable.

In fact, I was reading something from JPL engineers the other day where they said they expect to be able to work with Voyager 2 (in other words, communicate with it, control it, and collect science data with it) for at least another decade.

Iulus Cofield wrote:I was just wondering with a friend two days ago if Voyager had made it out of the solar system proper. Sounds like we may be on the cusp of learning some new and exciting information.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5wilptDhk4

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Proginoskes » Wed Dec 07, 2011 7:44 am UTC

Let's hope it doesn't get trapped in a black hole ...

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby AvatarIII » Wed Dec 07, 2011 9:01 am UTC

Minerva wrote:I love the fact that we can still control the Voyagers, and do good science with them today. Absolutely remarkable.

In fact, I was reading something from JPL engineers the other day where they said they expect to be able to work with Voyager 2 (in other words, communicate with it, control it, and collect science data with it) for at least another decade.

Iulus Cofield wrote:I was just wondering with a friend two days ago if Voyager had made it out of the solar system proper. Sounds like we may be on the cusp of learning some new and exciting information.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5wilptDhk4

:)


By my calculations, Voyager 1 is about 16.5 light hours away, amazing to think to do anything with it, you have to send it instructions one morning, and you won't even know if the instructions even got there until the following evening! :lol:

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby big boss » Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:09 am UTC

If you consider the edge of the solar system the oort cloud, thats a fourth of the way to Proxima Centauri which is ~ 1 light year away, but since, as someone pointed out, voyager is traveling in the other direction the distance might be a bit further closer.


edit: fixed an error
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby AvatarIII » Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:17 am UTC

big boss wrote:If you consider the edge of the solar system the oort cloud, thats a fourth of the way to Proxima Centauri which is ~ 1 light year away, but since, as someone pointed out, voyager is traveling in the other direction the distance might be a bit further.


Wouldn't the edge of the oort cloud be closer to us on sides where there wasn't another star pulling it away from us?

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Dec 07, 2011 10:29 am UTC

Roĝer wrote:If Voyager 1 would not be transmitting, and assuming the main method of detecting it from earth would be through its blackbody radiation, we have a power source of 420 W at 1.78×10¹⁰ km, which gives a brightness of 1×10⁻¹⁹ Wm⁻², or an apparent magnitude of 28. That is just visible for a big ground-based telescope, and easily for the Hubble (by 1.5 orders of magnitude).

I love people who actually paid attention in their physics lectures :).

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby big boss » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:31 am UTC

AvatarIII wrote:
big boss wrote:If you consider the edge of the solar system the oort cloud, thats a fourth of the way to Proxima Centauri which is ~ 1 light year away, but since, as someone pointed out, voyager is traveling in the other direction the distance might be a bit further.


Wouldn't the edge of the oort cloud be closer to us on sides where there wasn't another star pulling it away from us?


Correct, I'm a bit tired its 5 am here and Ive been studying for finals all night running on caffeine.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby AvatarIII » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:35 am UTC

big boss wrote:
AvatarIII wrote:
big boss wrote:If you consider the edge of the solar system the oort cloud, thats a fourth of the way to Proxima Centauri which is ~ 1 light year away, but since, as someone pointed out, voyager is traveling in the other direction the distance might be a bit further.


Wouldn't the edge of the oort cloud be closer to us on sides where there wasn't another star pulling it away from us?


Correct, I'm a bit tired its 5 am here and I've been studying for finals all night running on caffeine.


lol, don't worry, i wasn't correcting you, I was seriously wondering if there was another mechanism in place that caused the oort cloud to be closer in the direction of other stars, solar wind or something

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby big boss » Wed Dec 07, 2011 11:38 am UTC

AvatarIII wrote:
big boss wrote:
AvatarIII wrote:
big boss wrote:If you consider the edge of the solar system the oort cloud, thats a fourth of the way to Proxima Centauri which is ~ 1 light year away, but since, as someone pointed out, voyager is traveling in the other direction the distance might be a bit further.


Wouldn't the edge of the oort cloud be closer to us on sides where there wasn't another star pulling it away from us?


Correct, I'm a bit tired its 5 am here and I've been studying for finals all night running on caffeine.


lol, don't worry, i wasn't correcting you, I was seriously wondering if there was another mechanism in place that caused the oort cloud to be closer in the direction of other stars, solar wind or something


I can't think of anything else that could effect it, and from the wiki pictures of the cloud it seems pretty uniform.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Dec 07, 2011 12:22 pm UTC

big boss wrote:I can't think of anything else that could effect it, and from the wiki pictures of the cloud it seems pretty uniform.

True, but seen as how we haven't been to the Oort cloud yet, it's a bit hard to take accurate pictures ;)

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Dec 07, 2011 12:49 pm UTC

Well if the Oort cloud goes out far enough, then in the direction of a nearby star, some of those objects will stop being gravitationally bound to the sun, and may start orbiting the other star instead. So the outer edge of the Oort cloud may be closer in the direction of Alpha Centauri if it has an extent measured in light years.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby addams » Sat Dec 24, 2011 4:09 pm UTC

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZXM2eq46_s

Someone put nebula to music or music to nebula. What came first?
The nebula or the music?

I like the stars. This seems like the right place to put this.

Extremely Off Topic.

Spoiler:
And; This seems like the right place to ask some of those unimportant questions.
1. What came first the music or the nebula?
Yeah. See? It seems like an easy question. Of course, the stars were there long before there were stringed instruments on Earth. But; We did not have any photos of them.
2. Did you know what a G string was before or after you knew this piece of music.

What does that answer say about you and your parents?
My mother never knew what a G string was. She had little interest in music.
I found out the hard way. I was told to buy a G string and I wanted to know for what. It turned into a strange conversation.

My friend wanted G-string panties for Christmas. What a weird Christmas that was. Do they come in any other flavor. Weird. Christmas is weird.


Extremely Off Topic.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Diadem » Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:05 pm UTC

SlyReaper wrote:Well if the Oort cloud goes out far enough, then in the direction of a nearby star, some of those objects will stop being gravitationally bound to the sun, and may start orbiting the other star instead. So the outer edge of the Oort cloud may be closer in the direction of Alpha Centauri if it has an extent measured in light years.

I've never quite understoopd that myself either. Alpha Centauri is twice as massive as the sun. At 1 light year it's pull with be 1/8th of the suns. Surely that's enough to disrupt those orbits? Throw them into wildly elliptic ones at the least. And the distance of stars changes, stars have been even close than 4 ly and will be again. Surely the Oort Cloud will be destroyed over time?
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby SummerGlauFan » Sat Dec 24, 2011 6:36 pm UTC

Assuming the Oort Cloud even exists at all.
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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby Soralin » Sun Dec 25, 2011 12:35 am UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:Assuming the Oort Cloud even exists at all.

And it's existence would be a fuzzy one, depending on how you defined what exactly the Oort Cloud was. I mean, what exactly would qualify as being the Oort Cloud? How many objects, how much mass, in what orbits, etc. There's almost certainly some stuff in really far out orbits, it's just a matter of how much. Take Sedna for example. It's orbit takes it out to around 937AU, and even it's closest only brings it in to around 76AU, and there's been some discussion over if it should be classified as an Oort cloud object or not.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby mfb » Sun Dec 25, 2011 8:22 pm UTC

Roĝer wrote:If Voyager 1 would not be transmitting, and assuming the main method of detecting it from earth would be through its blackbody radiation, we have a power source of 420 W at 1.78×10¹⁰ km, which gives a brightness of 1×10⁻¹⁹ Wm⁻², or an apparent magnitude of 28. That is just visible for a big ground-based telescope, and easily for the Hubble (by 1.5 orders of magnitude).

This is true for 420W of visible light. I am not so sure about infrared light. Any object with ~3000m^2 visible surface area towards the sun gets the same amount (420W) of solar radiation.
Compare that to the moons of pluto, for example: You know where you have to look there as well (O(10) arcseconds away from pluto). But it took until 2005 to discover Nix and Hydra with ~50-100km diameter. They are a factor of ~ hundred thousand brighter than Voyager in the infrared, and no-idea-how-many-orders-of-magnitude brighter in the visible light.

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Re: Voyager 1 Reaches New Region of Space

Postby aoeu » Sun Dec 25, 2011 9:12 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:
SlyReaper wrote:Well if the Oort cloud goes out far enough, then in the direction of a nearby star, some of those objects will stop being gravitationally bound to the sun, and may start orbiting the other star instead. So the outer edge of the Oort cloud may be closer in the direction of Alpha Centauri if it has an extent measured in light years.

I've never quite understoopd that myself either. Alpha Centauri is twice as massive as the sun. At 1 light year it's pull with be 1/8th of the suns. Surely that's enough to disrupt those orbits? Throw them into wildly elliptic ones at the least. And the distance of stars changes, stars have been even close than 4 ly and will be again. Surely the Oort Cloud will be destroyed over time?

You are forgetting that objects can be gained as well as lost.


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