Search for the Exit: Voyager 1 at Heliosphere’s Border with the Galaxy

Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 144-147
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235721

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Unexpected Magnetic Highway

The heliopause is thought to separate the heliosphere (the bubble of plasma and magnetic field originating at the Sun) from interstellar plasma and magnetic field. In August last year, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which was launched 35 years ago, was 18.5 billion kilometers away from the Sun, close to the expected location of the heliopause. Krimigis et al. (p. 144, published online 27 June) report observations of energetic ions and electrons by Voyager 1 that suggest that a sharp and distinct boundary was crossed five times over ∼30 days. Burlaga et al. (p. 147, published online 27 June) found that the magnetic field direction did not change across any of the boundary crossings, indicating that Voyager 1 had not crossed the heliopause but had entered a region in the heliosphere that serves as a magnetic highway along which low-energy ions from inside stream away and galactic cosmic rays flow in from interstellar space. Stone et al. (p. 150, published online 27 June) report the spectra of low-energy galactic cosmic rays in this unexpected region.


We report measurements of energetic (>40 kiloelectron volts) charged particles on Voyager 1 from the interface region between the heliosheath, dominated by heated solar plasma, and the local interstellar medium, which is expected to contain cold nonsolar plasma and the galactic magnetic field. Particles of solar origin at Voyager 1, located at 18.5 billion kilometers (123 astronomical units) from the Sun, decreased by a factor of >103 on 25 August 2012, while those of galactic origin (cosmic rays) increased by 9.3% at the same time. Intensity changes appeared first for particles moving in the azimuthal direction and were followed by those moving in the radial and antiradial directions with respect to the solar radius vector. This unexpected heliospheric “depletion region” may form part of the interface between solar plasma and the galaxy.

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