An artist's impression of one of the Voyager probes in space.
Image: AP Photo/NASA, File
NASA’S VOYAGER 1 spacecraft is preparing to leave the solar system three decades after it was launched with its twin craft Voyager 2.
The two were initially launched to explore the outer areas of the solar system, but as their operating capabilities continue to work well and radio contact with mission control has been sustained for longer than expected, the probes are to continue their journeys.
Voyager 1 is now in a kind of “cosmic purgatory” on the cusp of leaving the solar system and has entered uncharted territory between our solar system and interstellar space, according to NASA.
However, it could take from months to years more for the craft to fully enter interstellar space.
In pictures: Some of the dramatic space images captured by the Voyager craft:
Voyager 1 is currently about 11 billion miles from the sun. Its sister craft, Voyager 2, is about 9 billion miles from the sun and will follow Voyager 1 in heading into interstellar space.
Last month, NASA said that Voyager 2 had successfully switched to its back-up thrusters in order to conserve energy used to heat the primary thrusters and operate the spacecraft. The space agency estimates that the craft could now operate for another ten years.
Having launched in 1977, the two probes are now the longest continuously-serving spacecraft in deep space. Between them, they have explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and 49 moons.
Voyager 1 is now set to become the first man-made object to leave the solar system.
Both spacecraft are currently in the ‘heliosheath’, the outermost layer of the huge magnetic bubble surrounding our solar system, although Voyager 1 is at the furthermost edge of this region.
“Voyager tells us now that we’re in a stagnation region in the outermost layer of the bubble around our solar system,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology.
“Voyager is showing that what is outside is pushing back. We shouldn’t have long to wait to find out what the space between stars is really like.”