Thirty-five years after liftoff, it's been confirmed that NASA's Voyager I is now the first man-made spacecraft to ever travel beyond our solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager was supposed to gather information on the outer planets, but once she reached the proverbial ceiling of our star system, the spacecraft just didn't want to come back. Voyager just kept going. Now we know exactly where she's been and the interstellar reaches coming next — right now, well, that's never been reached before.
The latest development in Voyager's journey was set in stone Wednesday after the American Geographical Union announced it was accepting a paper on severe drops in the radiation levels experienced by Voyager on August 25, 2012. We'll let the scientists explain this one:
On August 25, 2012, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 11 billion miles from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays – cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system – spiked to levels not seen since Voyager's launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels.
So, it didn't necessarily happen today, but this is the first time scientists have confirmed that interstellar space research — or something very close to it — is actually happening. In December, NASA announced that Voyager had entered a "new region at the far reaches of space" that scientists called a "magnetic highway," but they were hesitant to say it was outside of our solar system. Thanks to today's study, the space agency can stop being quite so hesitant. BBC News says the next thing the spacecraft will encounter is a star, but that it will take tens of thousands of years before that even happens. So float on, you crazy spacecraft.
As Discovery News explains, the next big determination will be whether the spacecraft is in intersteller space or a new, previously unknown region before it hits intersteller space. Apparently space has more districts than an electoral map and is twice as hard to comprehend.