NASA Confirms: Yes, Voyager Has Exited The Solar System

Boldly going where no probe has gone before, the craft became the first man-made object to leave the Milky Way.

Pushing the frontier of space exploration, Voyager became the first man-made object to leave the solar system. NASA confirmed Thursday that the spacecraft left the solar system more than a year ago, traveling in the space between stars.

Voyager 1 first launched into space in 1977 to study the outer planets, but after completing its mission in 1989, the craft continued traveling—about 12 billion miles in total. It's now so far away that its radio signals take 17 hours to reach Earth.

"Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before, marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science," John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

Officials confirmed Voyager's interstellar journey based on space plasma density evidence. Readings from April/May compared with October/November of last year showed the number of protons occupying every cubic centimeter in space increased by almost 100 times. This has been attributed to Voyager leaving the magnetic fields and particle winds billowing from the sun's surface. Scientists calculate Voyager's departure from the solar system at or around August 25, 2012. Moving at 100,000 miles per hour, Voyager is expected to be near another star in 40,000 years.

Scientists began debating on Voyager's location earlier this year. In March, the American Geophysical Union declared the craft had left the solar system, but NASA was reluctant to agree until the surrounding magnetic fields changed direction. NASA's confirmation Thursday should put the controversy to bed.

[Image: NASA]

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15 Comments

  • sboho

    But the solar system is only a smale part of the milky way.probably you did not mean to say it " leave the milky way "

  • Kent Miles

    It left the Milky Way behind and only took the Snickers and Three Musketeers along for the ride...

  • Rocketman-15

    Ok folks, the order of heirarchy is 1) Solar System; 2) Milky Way (Galaxy); 3) Universe.  It has now officially left the Solar System, although it has long been beyond the orbit of Neptune.  There are billions of stars in our galaxy, and Voyager I may come close to another star in about 40,000 years.  Got to love nuclear propulsion!

  • Mcgdesign

    Todays announcement has bittersweet memories for me. My father was part of the team that assembled Voyager 1 so many years ago. I can still remember his pride when he gave my children baseball caps with the Voyager 1 logo on them. 

    Congrats Dad, on a job well done. I'm sure you can see it where you are now, better than we can.

  • 6b5acc5d

    Alice Truong is a tech writer...she almost certainly knows the diff betw the solar system and the galaxy. So maybe the question is who is the FastCo editor who (i) missed the error or (ii) edited in the error.

  • Bat 1

    Inter-stellar is NOT the same thing as inter-galactic.  Voyager may have left our solar system, but it hasn't left the Milky Way.  Not hardly!  Ms. Truong should know more about the subjects on which she writes.

  • Osagie Igbeare

    yeah, as Connor brought up, it's only left the solar system - not yet the Milky Way galaxy which our solar system is located in. "Readings from April/May compared with October/November of last year showed the number of protons occupying every cubic centimeter in space increased by almost 100 times. This has been attributed to Voyager leaving the magnetic fields and particle winds billowing from the sun's surface." - which makes sense if it's only left the solar system as I don't think particle winds from the sun's surface could extend that far beyond the solar system.

  • jgogek

    In fact, it's gone through a thousand parallel universes!!! Past a million trillion worlds!!! Even  beyond Poughkeepsie!!! Didn't the media used to have copy editors who knew the difference between solar systems and galaxies? Bah, who needed them anyway?