Voyager 2 is Live Again in Interstellar Space

Voyager 2 is Live Again in Interstellar Space

Voyager 2 is Live Again in Interstellar Space
Image Credits: NASA

After recovering from a small glitch, Voyager 2 has, once again, resumed the exploration of its interstellar surroundings.

The Voyager 2 turned off its science instruments on 25th January 2020 after missing a critical spin maneuver. This quick spin was needed to calibrate an instrument on the space probe. The failure meant that two power-hungry systems remained on longer than expected and consumed a lot of energy. Consequently, Voyager 2 automatically shut off its science instruments to control the power shortage.

Given the fact that the space probe is 18.5 billion kilometers away from the Earth, the troubleshooting process was slow. According to NASA, a signal takes 17 hours to travel one way. As a result, the engineers had to wait for 34 hours to comprehend whether an instruction worked or not.

Despite this difficulty, the science instruments of Voyager 2 were rebooted and have started taking science data. The announcement from the NASA officials, which came on the 5th of February, said,

Mission operators report that Voyager 2 continues to be stable and that communications between Earth and the spacecraft are good. The spacecraft has resumed taking science data, and the science teams are now evaluating the health of the instruments following their brief shut-off.

History of Voyager 2

Voyager 2 was launched in 1977 with the intention of studying the outer Solar System. During its journey, the space probe made amazing revelations about Jupiter and Saturn as it flew past them. After that, Voyager 2 closely observed the ice giants of our Solar System. It is the only spacecraft to achieve this feat. The venerable spacecraft flew past Uranus in 1986 while it zoomed into Neptune in 1989.

Owing to their ultimate flight, Voyager 2 (alongside its twin) was then directed towards extended interstellar missions. Voyager 1 was the quicker of the two and reached the desired region in August 2012. Voyager 2 took another 6 years to make it to interstellar space and it has been there since November 2018.

Image Credits: Wired

Findings of Voyager 2 about Interstellar Space

There are a total of 5 scientific instruments on Voyager 2. All the information (about interstellar space) that we get from this probe is gathered by these instruments. The most outstanding thing about these instruments is that they are still working well in extreme conditions of interstellar space.

The first one of them is a magnetic field sensor. This instrument was useful in discovering that the magnetic field inside the Heliosphere is parallel to the field just beyond the Heliopause. Actually, the magnetic sensor of Voyager 1 did show this behavior when it left the Heliosphere. However, the scientists didn’t consider it an anomaly until it was verified by Voyager 2.

Secondly, it has a couple of instruments that study plasma and have provided us with some amazing knowledge. The data from the space probe shows that the plasma inside the Heliosphere is warmer than the local interstellar plasma. Similarly, the data from the twin probes shows that this interstellar plasma is denser than the plasma in the Heliosphere.  

Lastly, we have two instruments that are used to detect particles having different energies. Ed Stone mentioned the significance of the Voyager program in the following words:

The Voyager probes are showing us how our Sun interacts with the stuff that fills most of the space between stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Without this new data from Voyager 2, we wouldn’t know if what we were seeing with Voyager 1 was characteristic of the entire heliosphere or specific just to the location and time when it crossed.

Future of Voyager Space Program

Although these space probes have been outstanding for the last 42 years, they can’t go on forever. Each of these spacecraft is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. According to NASA, these generators are continuously losing their energy. When the energy levels will drop below a certain level, these illustrious missions will come to an end.

As time passes by, the power issues are becoming more and more serious for these probes. The engineers are trying their best to save the resources in order to prolong these missions. In recent years, they have turned off many instruments and heaters that are less relevant to the science goals. In November 2019, Ed Stone (the mission’s Project Scientist) gave an indication about its possible duration by saying,

It’s cooling off, the spacecraft is getting colder all the time and the power is dropping. We know that somehow, in another five years or so, we may not have enough power to have any scientific instruments on any longer.”  

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