Tuesday, 15 Jun 2021

Voyager space probe detects eerie interstellar ‘hum’ 14 billion miles from Earth

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NASA's Voyager 1 probe, launched in 1977, is now over 14,000,000,000 miles from Earth. And far out beyond the influence of the Sun, the furthest-flying man-made object in history has detected an eerie “hum” that appears to be the background music of the galaxy.

While space is (at least mostly) a vacuum and sound cannot be heard in the conventional sense, Voyager’s sensors have detected the low background noise of the space between the stars.

"It's very faint and monotone, because it is in a narrow frequency bandwidth," Stella Koch Ocker, a Cornell University doctoral student in astronomy, said in a statement.

"We're detecting the faint, persistent hum of interstellar gas."

She went on: "Scientifically, this research is quite a feat. It’s a testament to the amazing Voyager spacecraft.

"It’s the engineering gift to science that keeps on giving."

She said that even after 14 billion miles, the probe’s mission is not yet over.

"We have some ideas about how far Voyager will need to get to start seeing more pure interstellar waters, so to speak," she added.

"But we’re not entirely sure when we’ll reach that point."

Voyager’s mission was extended in 2017 when its thrusters were fired for the first time since 1980 in order to adjust its trajectory and keep its antenna pointed towards the Earth.

The little probe’s thermoelectric generators are expected to supply enough power for its instruments to keep operating until around 2025.

It passed the edge of the Solar System on Valentine’s Day 1990, and after taking a "family portrait" photo of the Sun and six of its planets Voyager’s camera was switched off to conserve power.

The subtle hum of the universe was compared to fine drizzle by James Cordes, the George Feldstein Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University.

He said in a statement: "The interstellar medium is like a quiet or gentle rain.

"In the case of a solar outburst, it's like detecting a lightning burst in a thunderstorm and then it's back to a gentle rain."

  • Space
  • Science

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