In Situ Observations of Interstellar Plasma with Voyager 1

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Science  27 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6153, pp. 1489-1492
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241681

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Finally Out

Last summer, it was not clear if the Voyager 1 spacecraft had finally crossed the heliopause—the boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space. Gurnett et al. (p. 1489, published online 12 September) present results from the Plasma Wave instrument on Voyager 1 that provide evidence that the spacecraft was in the interstellar plasma during two periods, October to November 2012 and April to May 2013, and very likely in the interstellar plasma continuously since the series of boundary crossings that occurred in July to August 2012.


Launched over 35 years ago, Voyagers 1 and 2 are on an epic journey outward from the Sun to reach the boundary between the solar plasma and the much cooler interstellar medium. The boundary, called the heliopause, is expected to be marked by a large increase in plasma density, from about 0.002 per cubic centimeter (cm−3) in the outer heliosphere, to about 0.1 cm−3 in the interstellar medium. On 9 April 2013, the Voyager 1 plasma wave instrument began detecting locally generated electron plasma oscillations at a frequency of about 2.6 kilohertz. This oscillation frequency corresponds to an electron density of about 0.08 cm−3, very close to the value expected in the interstellar medium. These and other observations provide strong evidence that Voyager 1 has crossed the heliopause into the nearby interstellar plasma.

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