NEW YORK – The Interstellar Probe, an ambitious concept for traveling to the edge of the solar system, is approaching reality. During a panel event held at the Club of Researchers here on October 17, scientists discussed the idea of sending a space ship 90 billion miles (19659002) away from Earth and its planets around our solar system like a goldfish in a bowl, which in this case it is the limit produced by the sun. Now imagine if a fish could send a probe out of the vessel to learn about its place in your living room. This funny thought is a bit like the idea behind the interstellar probe.
Sending scientific instruments to the edge of the heliosphere or area of sunlight is like going to the edge of a fish bowl. Going beyond the heliosphere and looking back at the solar system – beyond the bowl – could inform a whole new scientific perspective about our place in space.
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Space technology has evolved to enable new science missions. Geographic studies are supported by technologies ranging from orbiting space telescopes to cameras aboard close and personal missions such as Cassini, Juno and New Horizons, which have produced incredibly sharp images of Saturn, Jupiter and Pluto, respectively.
"What we've never done is take a spacecraft and place it outside our entire solar system," Jason Calliroy, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins Laboratory of Applied Physics in Maryland, said during the panel.
The sun affects a region around where the Earth, comets, and other planets move. This "bubble" acts as a barrier to prevent dangerous cosmic radiation and to retain the sun-charged particles that are essential for plants and humans. By sending a probe into the interstellar space, scientists could better understand how this bubble is formed and what the bubbles around the other stars may be.
The kinds of questions we can ask about the heliosphere while we are still inside it are subject to a number of different biases, according to Princeton University helicopter Jamie Salai, who was also part of the group. As he put it, an interstellar mission is the "next step of magnitude" after Voyager.
NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977, became the first probes to emerge from the solar system. In August 2012, Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, having noticed that it was surrounded by a 9% increase in galactic cosmic rays coming from outside the solar system. Voyager 2 entered the interstellar space six years later, in November 2018. The incredible duo continues to send back data to Earth and is evidence of multi-generational research.
While still in its infancy, NASA hopes its Space Launch Space Missile (SLS) will take the Interstellar probe to the edge of our fishbowl in less time than Voyager's 35-year voyage 1. According to a panel comment by Rob Stough, SLS usage manager, the next-generation rocket launch capability could support the Interstellar probe and its potential legacy.
Researchers are still deciding where to place the probe in the heliosphere's fish bowl. "We are not sure exactly which direction [to take] we are heading into the interstellar environment," says Michael Paul, head of the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory research study at John Hopkins before Space.com before the panel discussion. "Should we go in the direction that follows the Voyagers, do we go in the direction indicated by the new science that [will] comes from missions like IMAP, which IBEX showed us, will we [or] take a new direction at all? "
" We don't know which direction we're going to go yet … [and] we're open to where we are going to visit on our way out, "Paul adds.
There's still something to decide, but enthusiasm is already there and growing