Out there: NASA says its Voyager 1 probe has become first spacecraft to leave the solar system | Star Tribune

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Thirty-six years after it rocketed away from Earth, the plutonium-powered spacecraft has escaped the sun's influence and is now cruising 11 1/2 billion miles away in interstellar space, or the vast, cold emptiness between the stars, NASA said Thursday.

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It will study exotic particles and other phenomena and will radio the data back to Earth, where the Voyager team awaits the starship's discoveries. But since there's no "Welcome to Interstellar Space" sign out there, NASA waited for more evidence before concluding that the probe had in fact broken out of the hot plasma bubble surrounding the planets.
And just in case it encounters intelligent life out there, it is carrying a gold-plated, 1970s-era phonograph record with multicultural greetings from Earth, photos and songs, including Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. 12, 2013 that Voyager 1 has become the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space, or the space between stars, more than three decades after launching from Earth. (AP Photo/NASA)
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Never before has a man-made object left the solar system as it is commonly understood.
Since there was no detectable change in the direction of the magnetic field lines, the team assumed the far-flung craft was still in the heliosphere, or the vast bubble of charged particles around the sun.. Meanwhile, Voyager 1 used Saturn as a gravitational slingshot to power itself past Pluto.
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This artist rendering released by NASA shows NASA�s Voyager 1 spacecraft barreling through space. It takes about 17 hours for its signal to reach Earth.
An undated handout illustration of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft passing through an area near the edge of the Solar System known as the magnetic highway. All rights reserved.
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NASA celebrated by playing the "Star Trek" theme at a news conference in Washington.
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At the rate it is going, it would take 40,000 years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri.
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But in the meantime, a chance solar eruption that shook Voyager I last spring provided the scientists with the data they needed, convincing them the boundary had been crossed in August of last year.
Last year, scientists monitoring Voyager 1 noticed strange happenings that suggested the spacecraft had broken through: Charged particles streaming from the sun suddenly vanished. Also, there was a spike in galactic cosmic rays bursting in from the outside.
While Voyager 1 may have left the solar system as most people understand it, it still has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years to go before bidding adieu to the last icy bodies that make up our neighborhood.
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With the new data, "it took us 10 seconds to realize we were in interstellar space," said Don Gurnett, a Voyager scientist at the University of Iowa who led the new research, published online in the journal Science.
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LOS ANGELES — NASA's Voyager 1 probe has left the solar system, boldly going where no machine has gone before.
Photo: NASA, JPL-Caltech via New York Times
Voyager 1 actually made its exit more than a year ago, scientists said. 12, 2013, scientists declared that Voyager 1 had become the first manmade object to exit the solar system, a breathtaking achievement that NASA could only fantasize about back when it was launched in 1977.
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The Voyager team patiently waited for a change in magnetic field direction — thought to be the telltale sign of a cosmic border crossing.
Voyager 1's odyssey began in 1977 when the spacecraft and its twin, Voyager 2, were launched on a tour of the gas giant planets of the solar system.
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"We made it," said an ecstatic Ed Stone, the mission's chief scientist, who waited decades for this moment.
Voyager 1, which is about the size of a small car, is drifting in a part of the universe littered with the remnants of ancient star explosions.
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Out there: NASA says its Voyager 1 probe has become first spacecraft to leave the solar system | Star Tribune
After beaming back dazzling postcard views of Jupiter's giant red spot and Saturn's shimmering rings, Voyager 2 hopscotched to Uranus and Neptune. On Sept. The space agency announced Thursday, Sept
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