This interstellar probe would go deeper into space than anything that came before it

The probe, if approved and funded, could be launched in the early 2030s.

The probe, if approved and funded, could be launched in the early 2030s.
Drawing: Johns Hopkins APL

Four years in the making, a pragmatic mission concept for a interstellar probe would go beyond the interstellar Voyager mission, in which two spacecraft left Earth in the 1970s and are now the most distant human-made objects. The team behind the project detailed their proposal today at the annual general meeting of the European Geosciences Union.

This probe would pass the solar system heliosphere, the area around us where the Sun’s solar winds play a role, filling space with radiation and magnetic fields. (Earth’s magnetosphere shields us from much of this, and the absence of such a sphere on Mars and Venus is clear in their divergent planetary evolution). To some extent, the heliosphere also acts as a shelter protecting our solar system from interstellar radiation.

“The interstellar probe represents this snapshot in time, of where we are on the solar journey through the galaxy,” said Pontus Brandt, astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University and member of the interstellar probe team, during today’s presentation. “By exploring the heliosphere and the interstellar medium today, in its current state, the interstellar probe will eventually allow us to understand how our home in the galaxy was formed and also where we are going.

One of the identical Voyager spaceships

One of the identical Voyager spaceships
Picture: NASA

The furthest man-made object from Earth is Voyager 1, launched in 1977 and now over 152 astronomical units away from us, in which one AU is the average distance between the Sun and the Earth. In lower terms, Voyager 1 has traveled more than 14 billion kilometers to date, while its brother, Voyager 2, has covered more than 11.7 billion kilometers. New Horizons, launched in 2006, is now just beyond Pluto. The proposed probe, which would be launched in the early 2030s, would hit the heliosphere limit in 15 years, compared to the Voyagers’ 35-year-old schlepp at the same location. The probe would be built to last 50 years, with the ultimate goal of making it 1,000 astronomical units, eclipsing the previous advancements of human spacecraft and plunging into the interstellar medium – the great void beyond the limits of our Sun.

“The interstellar probe will go to unknown local interstellar space, which humanity has never reached before,” said Elena Provornikova, head of interstellar probe heliophysics at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Maryland, in a European Union of Geosciences. Press release. “For the first time, we’ll be taking a photo of our vast heliosphere from the outside to see what our solar system house looks like.”

A graph showing the relative distances of objects in our heliosphere and beyond.

A graph showing the relative distances of objects in our heliosphere and beyond.
Graphic: Johns Hopkins APL

A graph showing the relative distances of objects in our heliosphere and beyond.

A graph showing the relative distances of objects in our heliosphere and beyond.
Graphic: Johns Hopkins APL

To come out to such a clip, the team offers to launch the probe around Jupiter, in a way similar to cassini. This beats pulling the probe past the Sun, where it would need a huge heat shield to survive, reducing the number of scientific instruments the craft could take on its journey.

The scientific objectives of the probe are threefold. As presented by Provornikova earlier today, it is about better understanding the physical processes that shape the heliosphere, better understanding how activity in the interstellar medium affects the heliosphere, and discovering and quantifying the properties of the heliosphere. local interstellar medium.

At the end of this year, the interstellar probe team will offer the spacecraft to NASA in a full report. Hoping they get the funding to move forward.

After: Voyager probes detect hitherto unknown phenomenon in deep space

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