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Official NASA Communication 93-099

Official NASA Communication 93-099

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 05, 2007
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02/09/2015

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Paula Cleggett-HaleimHeadquarters, Washington, D.C.May 26, 1993(Phone: 202/358-0883)Embargoed until noon EDTMary A. HardinJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.(Phone: 818/354-5011)RELEASE: 93-099VOYAGER SPACECRAFT FIND CLUE TO ANOTHER SOLAR SYSTEMMYSTERYNearly 15 years after they left home, the Voyager 1 and 2spacecraft have discovered the first direct evidence of thelong-sought-after heliopause -- the boundary that separatesEarth's solar system from interstellar space."This discovery is an exciting indication that still morediscoveries and surprises lie ahead for the Voyagers as theycontinue their journey to the outer reaches of our solar system,"said Dr. Edward C. Stone, Director of the Jet PropulsionLaboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., and Voyager Project Scientist.Since August 1992, the radio antennas on the spacecraft,called the plasma wave subsystem, have been recording intenselow-frequency radio emissions coming from beyond the solar system.For months the source of these radio emissions remained a mystery."Our interpretation now is that these radio signals arecreated as a cloud of electrically charged gas, called a plasma,expands from the sun and interacts with the cold interstellar gasbeyond the heliopause," said Dr. Don Gurnett, PrincipalInvestigator of the Voyager plasma wave subsystem and a professor
 
at the University of Iowa.The sun is the center of our solar system. The solar wind isa stream of electrically charged particles that flows steadilyaway from the sun. As the solar wind moves out into space, itcreates a magnetized bubble of hot plasma around the sun, calledthe heliosphere. Eventually, the expanding solar wind encountersthe charged particles and magnetic field in the interstellar gas.The boundary created between the solar wind and interstellar gasis the heliopause.- more - - 2 - "These radio emissions are probably the most powerful radiosource in our solar system," said Gurnett. "We've estimated thetotal power radiated by the signals to be more than 10 trillionwatts. However, these radio signals are at such low frequencies,only 2 to 3 kilohertz, that they can't be detected from Earth."In May and June 1992, the sun experienced a period of intensesolar activity which emitted a cloud of rapidly moving chargedparticles. When this cloud of plasma arrived at the heliopause,the particles interacted violently with the interstellar plasmaand produced the radio emissions, according to Gurnett."We've seen the frequency of these radio emissions rise overtime. Our assumption that this is the heliopause is based on thefact that there is no other known structure out there that couldbe causing these signals," Gurnett continued.Because of the Voyagers' unique positions in space, theyserendipitously detected and recorded the radio emissions."Earth-bound scientists would not know this phenomenon wasoccurring if it weren't for the Voyager spacecraft," Gurnettadded.Exactly where the heliopause is remains one of the greatunanswered questions in space physics."It's this Voyager radio data combined with the plasmameasurements taken at the spacecraft that give us a better guessabout where the heliopause is. Based on the solar wind speed, the

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