NASA says its Voyager 1 spacecraft has officially—for real this time—ventured beyond the Sun’s magnetic highway and into interstellar space. Following 36 years and over 12 billion miles of constant traveling, the first man-made object has crossed into the most unimaginable and deepest unknown. The new data was presented by researchers on Thursday, and definitively states that the perennial craft is in territory us humans don’t yet understand.
According to a report by NASA, Voyager 1 has been traveling for about a year through plasma, which is present in the space between stars; it’s described as a transitional region just outside the solar bubble. Researchers say data collected by the craft first suggested interstellar space was near back in 2004, and it was just a matter of analyzing and interpreting the data to come up with a final conclusion. Back in March, scientists tentatively said Voyager 1 had passed into Interstellar space, but this new report makes everything official.
It apparently took scientists so long to examine the data because they needed to find an alternative way to measure plasma levels; after years of excruciating space travel, Voyager 1 no longer has a working plasma sensor. Luckily, a huge burst of solar wind from the sun last year gave scientists the data they needed.
“When this unexpected gift from the sun eventually arrived at Voyager 1’s location 13 months later, in April 2013, the plasma around the spacecraft began to vibrate like a violin string,” NASA wrote.
At that point in Voyager 1’s journey, researchers were able to determine the density of the plasma around the craft, which was allegedly 40 times more dense than what the craft experienced previously. “Density of this sort is to be expected in interstellar space.” Lead researcher Don Gurnett added, “Clearly we had passed through the heliopause, which is the long-hypothesize boundary between the solar plasma and the interstellar plasma.”
Even though Voyager 1 has crossed over into the farthest reaches, scientists expect data to continue to stream in well into 2020. Hopefully then we’ll know what lies ahead, because right now we know next to nothing where we’re going and what’s out there. Only Captain Kirk and his crew on the Enterprise know that.