More than 35 years after launching from Earth and now at the frontier of the solar system, NASA's Voyager 1 probe may be tasting interstellar space for the first time, according to scientists analyzing fresh data from the distant explorer.
Launched in September 1977 to fly past Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 1 is now cruising 11.3 billion miles away and opening its distance by 300 million miles each year. It takes 17 hours for a radio signal to travel between Earth and Voyager 1. Its twin explorer - Voyager 2 - is lagging slightly behind at a distance of 9.2 billion miles from Earth. The nuclear-powered probe's computers have about 68 kilobytes of memory. An 8-gigabyte iPod Nano holds more than 100,000 times as much data. But particle-sniffing sensors aboard Voyager 1 are returning intriguing measurements showing the spacecraft is on the precipice of leaving the solar system. Researchers may be seeing the first signs that Voyager 1 is nearing - or may have already crossed - the heliopause, an enigmatic boundary between the sun's sphere of influence and the void beyond.
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