Voyager 2 is interstellar and the Parkes Radio Telescope was there


NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft became only the second spacecraft to enter interstellar space, and the Parkes radio telescope was there, listening.

NASA announced on Tuesday morning at Parkes Dish that Voyager 2 had left the "heliosphere" – the protective cover of the sun around our solar system – which is about 18 billion kilometers from Earth and took 41 years on a trip.

CSIRO's iconic Parkes Radio Telescope and the huge plates of the Canberra Space Communications Complex (CDSCC) have confirmed the spacecraft's escape from the local space.

The landmark Voyager 2, becoming the second man-made vehicle to reach interstellar space, was reached on November 5, but it took several weeks for NASA to receive the historical and unique data and confirm the findings.

The Parkes telescope will continue to receive data in early 2019.

Because of the location and distance of Earth from Voyager 2, the CDSCC and the Parkes telescope are the only facilities in the world that are capable of having contact with the spacecraft.

Voyager 2 can not record your data on board – it transmits it directly from the instruments back to Earth, making it essential to receive as much of this vital data as possible.

Our solar system is covered by "solar wind" – an invisible stream of particles emitted by the sun. This wind repels the "interstellar wind," a stream of dangerous high-energy cosmic particles that run in our direction from deep space.

As Voyager 2 headed toward the edge of the solar system, an instrument onboard was monitoring a drop in the number of particles emitted by the sun reaching the ship.

This dropped when interstellar space was reached. At the same time, the intensity of galactic cosmic radiation also increased, showing that the spacecraft was out of the sun's protection.

CSIRO Chief Executive Officer Dr. Larry Marshall said that CSIRO was here to address the major challenges of science.

"We are proud to help NASA solve the scientific challenge of capturing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity while Voyager 2 ventures into interstellar space," he said.

"Our team at Parkes partnered with NASA on some of the most important steps of mankind in space, including landing the Mars Rover Curiosity and, almost 50 years ago, landing at Apollo 11 Moon.

"Our long standing relationship with NASA dates back more than 50 years, creating innovative science solutions and fueled by our shared ambition to expand the limits of exploration to benefit life on Earth."

CSIRO's Director of Astronomy and Space Sciences, Dr. Douglas Bock, explained how Parkes' additional support would accompany Voyager 2.

"The Canberra Space Communication Complex, which CSIRO operates on behalf of NASA, has been providing command, telemetry and control for the Voyager spacecraft since its launch in 1977," he said.

"NASA contracted our 64-meter Parkes Radio Telescope to" combine forces "with the 70-meter CDSCC antenna, Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43), to capture as much scientifically valuable data as possible during this critical period.

"The Parkes telescope will be tracking Voyager 2 for 11 hours a day while the spacecraft is observable by Parkes.

"CDSCC's DSS43 will also track Voyager 2 for several hours before and after Parkes, expanding the available observation time.

"This is one of the highlights of CSIRO's decades of experience in operating large and complex tracking structures for spacecraft and radio astronomy."

Voyager 1 crossed interstellar space in 2012, while Voyager 2 was on a different path through our solar system.

On his journey, Voyager 2 famously passed Jupiter (1979), Saturn (1981), Uranus (1986) and Neptune (1989), returning valuable images and data.

The Parkes telescope is part of the Breakthrough Listen program, a global initiative to look for signs of technological signatures in the universe.


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