Thirty-five years after liftoff, some scientists are claiming that NASA's Voyager I is now the first man-made spacecraft to ever travel beyond our solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager was supposed to gather information on the outer planets, but once she reached the proverbial ceiling of our star system, the spacecraft just didn't want to come back. Voyager just kept going. So that's all fine and dandy, except NASA is still skeptical about the conclusions.
The latest development in Voyager's journey was set in stone Wednesday when the American Geographical Union announced it was accepting a paper on severe drops in the radiation levels experienced by Voyager on August 25, 2012. We'll let the scientists explain this one:
On August 25, 2012, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 11 billion miles from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays – cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system – spiked to levels not seen since Voyager's launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels.
So, it didn't necessarily happen today, but this is the first time scientists have attempted to confirm that interstellar space research — or something very close to it — is actually happening. In December, NASA announced that Voyager had entered a "new region at the far reaches of space" that scientists called a "magnetic highway," but they were hesitant to say it was outside of our solar system. And they worked with the American Geographical Union on that announcement!
But NASA isn't so sure about these latest developments. "Consensus of the mission team is that NASA’s Voyager spacecraft has not left the solar system," a NASA representative told Time's Steven James Snyder. "Statement soon from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory." As Discovery News explains, the next big determination will be whether the spacecraft is in intersteller space or a new, previously unknown region before it hits intersteller space. Apparently space has more districts than an electoral map and is twice as hard to comprehend.
NASA plans to release a statement about the differing opinions later on Tuesday. While scientists bicker back on earth, Voyager I will keep doing the same thing it's been doing for the last thirty five year. So float on, you crazy spacecraft. Float on.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the disenting opinion from NASA. We will update the post again once they release an official statement on the matter.