The Voyager rover, launched into space in 1977, still contributes to science 43 years later, billions of kilometers from its home planet in interstellar space. Using instruments on Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, American researchers discovered a new type of cosmic ray bursts of electrons from the Sun, which are accelerated by the shock waves resulting from the massive eruption of the star.
A few days after the accelerated electron explosion, the oscillation of the plasma wave, caused by the lower energy electrons, reaches the spacecraft instrument, and a month later, the shock wave itself. According to physicists, these electrons travel in the interstellar medium at speeds close to the speed of light – about 670 times faster than the shock waves giving them momentum. Reflecting from the enhanced magnetic field at the edge of the shock wave, electrons rotate along the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field, gaining velocity as the distance between them and the shock wave increases. Interestingly, the shock wave took more than a year to reach the Voyager probe, which is more than 22 billion kilometers from the Sun.
In a press release from the University of Iowa, study leader Respected Physics and Astronomy Professor Don Gurnett explained: “When the shock wave first hits the interstellar magnetic field line passing through the spacecraft, it reflects off and accelerates some of the electrons from the cosmic rays. We have determined with our instruments that these are electrons that have been reflected and accelerated by interstellar shocks propagating outward from solar energy events on the Sun. This is a previously unknown mechanism. “
The mechanism of particle acceleration by the shock wave itself is not new, but scientists have not previously recorded it in the interstellar medium, which is very different from the solar wind, where a similar process was previously observed. The researchers believe the results can improve understanding of cosmic radiation and shock waves. Ultimately, they could help protect astronauts from radiation exposure while flying into space.
But the possibilities for new discoveries with the help of ancient equipment by modern standards are extraordinary. Both Voyager probes use very old electronics: their processor frequency is only 250 kHz versus gigahertz for modern (even consumer) chips, and it takes about a day and a half to communicate with the device. This is another testament to the reliability of technology. But hopes for new discoveries are waning, with the newest scientific instruments in every spacecraft expected to fail sometime in 2025.
Interestingly, in November, scientists reported that they were able to restore two-way communication with the Voyager 2 probe: due to the repair and renovation of the DSS43 (Deep Space Station 43) antenna located in Canberra (the capital of Australia), the device was in fashion for eight months . independent flight. Experts can only receive certain information from the space station, but cannot send control commands.
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