NASA's Voyager spacecraft may be billions of miles away and over 40 years, but he still makes important discoveries, as new research reveals

An article published today in the Astronomical Journal describes an entirely new form of electron burst, a discovery made possible by intrepid Voyager probes These bursts occur in the interstellar medium, a region of space in which the density of matter is extremely thin As the new article points out, something funky is happening to electrons from cosmic rays making their way through this remote region: they are reflected and pushed at extreme speeds by advancing the shock waves produced by the Sun

In itself, this process, in which the shock waves push the particles, nothing new What is new, however, it is because these electron bursts appear long before the advancing shock wave, and that this happens in a supposedly calm region of space. The new article was co-authored by University of Iowa astrophysicist Don Gurnett

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have done a wonderful job for the king and the country, and they still allow significant scientific work after so many years. But instead of studying the active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io or taking beautiful photos of Saturn's rings, these probes now study uncharted waters beyond the heliopause – the area between the hot solar plasma and the cooler interstellar medium at the edge of the solar system

Voyager 1 currently has 22 ansÀ 6 billion kilometers, Voyager 2 is at 179 billion kilometers (the probes were launched within 16 days apart, but they were sent on different trajectories during their respective sojourns through the solar system) Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause line in 2012 and Voyager 2 did the same in 2018 They are currently traveling through a region called the very local interstellar medium. (VLISM), study finds Voyager probes are the most distant human-made objects ever

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Some may quibble on the term «interstellar medium» and claim that Voyager probes are technically still inside the solar system, but Gurnett is adamant that Voyager probes do travel through interstellar space, which literally means the «middle between the stars », as he explained by phone “We won this argument”, declared Gurnett, “but of course, i am biased”The gas pressure at the location of the Voyager probes, he said, is equal to the gas pressure we would expect to see in interstellar space. For him, this means that the probes are inside the interstellar medium

In 2012, Gurnett told colleagues that Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space, a claim confirmed by NASA the following year

Years ago, before the NASA probes enter this region of space, “we thought it might get downright boring and nothing changes there”, declared Gurnett “But what we found, it's not calm and quiet at all – the interstellar medium has important things going on!”

As previous research has shown, stellar shock waves are moving through this region of space, result of coronal mass ejections on the Sun These highly energetic events propel hot gases and energy into space, propelling them towards the heliopause and the interstellar medium at enormous speeds. Even travel on 16 million kilometers per hour, however, it takes over a year for these shock waves to reach heliopause and another half a year to reach Voyager probes, Gurnett explained To get an idea of ​​the current distance of the probes, it takes about 20 hours to a Voyager transmission – traveling at the speed of light – to reach Earth.

As described in the new article, these shock waves facilitate previously unnoticed behavior in the interstellar medium, namely electron bursts appearing long before the advancing shock waves.

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“The study is unique in that it examines several large solar storms that pass through the bubble that the Sun sculpts in the interstellar medium and extends well beyond Pluto.”, Herbert Funsten, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was not involved in the new study, explained in an email «Voyager spacecraft are in the interstellar medium and are therefore looking at the bubble – and the shocks that cross the border of the bubble – from the outside, providing a unique and calm viewing point that we cannot observe from inside the bubble.”

Voyager probes detected these energy surges with on-board instruments designed to detect cosmic rays (NASA thought ahead, and that's exactly the kind of thing the probes were designed for)

Regarding what's going on, electrons from VLISM bounce and are redirected by magnetic field lines in interstellar plasma, or ionized gas

«The magnetic field lines in the interstellar medium are almost purely straight», explained Gurnett «We detected the bursts of electrons when the shock waves first hit the magnetic field lines crossing the Voyager spacecraft – and this is the mechanism. The shock wave just hits the magnetic field line, and there is a jump at the level of shock, which reflects and excites some of the electrons in cosmic rays”

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Indeed, this interaction seems to accelerate the electrons, pushing them in front of the advancing shock wave The authors of the study qualify this phenomenon as «interstellar shocks”Consequently, the swollen electrons move about 670 times faster than the shock waves that initially pushed them into heliopause, which means that they are accelerated to almost relativistic speeds. Gurnett compared this phenomenon to a game of ping-pong, in which the ball is the electron, and the shock in the magnetic field is the paddle

Interesting fact, the probes also detected the shock waves themselves, who appeared between 13 and 30 days after electron peaks.

“It's like seeing the light reflected from the cloud of a distant explosion, then hear the boom later”, declared Funsten «The time it takes to see the cloud and hear the arrow provides important information about the properties of the interstellar medium and the properties of the shock wave penetration into the interstellar medium.”

Astronomers have described shock waves pushing electrons before, but these interactions were at the location of the shock wave. Here, electron bursts occur before the shock, what has never been seen before, declared Gurnett

“This is a whole new mechanism – the shock accelerates the electrons,” he says «But the shock has not yet reached the spaceship, it is therefore a precursor, that we call the precursor”

Funsten said these events are rare, but that they provide «enticing clues» on the effects of these shocks on the interstellar medium However, “more data will be needed to better understand these results”, did he declare, including more data from Voyager 2, “who has not been in the interstellar medium for a long time”, as well as the upcoming NASA IMAP mission (Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe), scheduled for launch in 2024

The new paper could improve our understanding of the complex interactions between shock waves and cosmic radiation, not only on the outskirts of our neighborhood, but also around other stars, including exploding stars These findings could also shed new light on the types of exposures astronauts should expect when working in space.

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Electron, Voyager 1, Voyager program, Voyager 2, NASA, Physique, spatialship

News – FR – Voyager probes detect previously unknown phenomenon in deep space
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Source: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2020/12/voyager-probes-spot-previously-unknown-phenomenon-in-deep-space/

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