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NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has discovered a new layer of the solar system that scientists hadn't known was there, researchers announced today (Dec. 3).

Voyager 1 and its sister probe Voyager 2 have been traveling through space since 1977, and are close to becoming the first manmade objects to leave the solar system.

Scientists haven't been sure exactly when that exit would occur, and now say the spacecraft are likely in the outermost region of the solar system, which is defined by the extent of the heliosphere, the large bubble of charged particles the sun puffs out around itself. Voyager 1, in particular, has entered a new region of the heliosphere that scientists are calling a "magnetic highway," which allows charged particles from inside the heliosphere to flow outward, and particles from the galaxy outside to come in.

"We do believe this may be the very last layer between us and interstellar space," Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, Calif., said during a teleconference with reporters. "This region was not anticipated, was not predicted."

Therefore, he said, it's hard to predict how soon Voyager will leave the solar system behind altogether.

"We don?t know exactly how long it will take," Stone said. "It may take two months, it may take two years."

The scientists don't think the Voyagers have left the solar system yet because of the orientation of the magnetic field they detect. So far, this field still runs east-west, in agreement with the field created by the sun and twisted by its rotation. Outside the solar system, models predict the magnetic field to be orientated more north-south.

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nice!

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Fascinating!

Its interesting how it still keeps on going and relays some data.

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Wow that's pretty cool, and to think I was only 5 when they launched this and it's still going yet I feel like I'm falling apart already

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Isn't this sort of like the barrier at the edge of our galaxy in Star Trek?

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Fascinating!

Its interesting how it still keeps on going and relays some data.

True its so far out there I wouldn't think it would relay that far especially for 1977 standards but i'm not a scientist so, but thats awesome.

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Isn't this sort of like the barrier at the edge of our galaxy in Star Trek?

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Yes, but our solar system isn't inpenterable ;)

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Wow that's pretty cool, and to think I was only 5 when they launched this and it's still going yet I feel like I'm falling apart already

It is pretty amazing, to think that this happened more than 30 years ago! I was a sprightly 20 year old and actually remember reading the news about this and thinking how long before mankind would follow. Sadly we are still very far from even getting man to Mars and that is just around the proverbial corner, never mind leaving the Solar System.

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I remember watching a documentary a few months back and a scientist suggested this as a theory, cant remember his name though.. Cool news though!

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