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Humans Have Left the Solar System (Or Not)

March 20, 2013

And no, this is not about Charlie Sheen.


Thank you, no really, thank you! Try the gharghmey!*

Where were we? Oh yeah: Humans have left the Solar System! (Okay, they say “may have left,” but dangit, we’re not scientists, Jim!)

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft — the farthest-flung object created by human hands — has traveled beyond the sun’s sphere of influence and may even have left the solar system forever, a new study suggests.

On Aug. 25, 2012, 35 years after the Voyager 1 mission launched, Earth’s most distant spacecraft detected a sharp change in the intensity of fast-moving charged particles called cosmic rays, suggesting it had left the outermost reaches of the heliosphere marking the edge of the solar system.

“Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it exited the heliosphere,” said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, in a statement.

Here’s a helpful graphic from NASA:

Well, sorta helpful. Nice colors, anyway.

And hold up – NASA says, Not so fast:

“The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA’s Voyager 1 has left the solar system,” said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”

Well heck. And here we were all ready to have a “Let’s Get Interstellar!’ party. (Guess we’ll have to have it anyway…)

We’ll update when news of more scientist arguments over this arise. There should be plenty…

Here’s some!

• Here’s Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy on the dispute.

* Gharghmey means “eel.” In Klingon. It was the closest thing to “veal” we could find.

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