Australian link to Voyager 2 success


As the probe reaches interstellar space, Aussie ears are listening. Alan Duffy reports.


An artist's impression of Voyager 2 reaching the edge of the heliosphere.

An artist's impression of Voyager 2 reaching the edge of the heliosphere. 

Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Australia’s giant 64-metre Parkes telescope was able to pick up the faint signals from Voyager 2 as it left the heliosphere – the region of space reached by solar wind – and travelled into Interstellar space this week. Even after four decades – it was launched in 1977 – the plucky probe continues to revolutionise science.

The heliosphere provides a protective bubble around the solar system as it travels through the Milky Way. This week, at a distance of 18 billion kilometres from Earth, the sensors on Voyager 2 indicated that the surrounding magnetic fields and numbers of ionised particles, known as a plasma, had changed.

The data indicated that the craft was passing through the heliopause – and into the true region of space between the stars.

Voyager 2 sends recordings directly back to Earth, with no option to store the critical data onboard, so as much of the signal as possible had to captured when it arrived.

At such an enormous distance the radio signals are incredibly faint, and the path Voyager 2 has taken out of the solar system means only one facility can help support NASA’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) – the Parkes Radio Telescope, operated by Australia’s peak science body, known as the CSIRO.

“We’re proud to help NASA solve the scientific challenge of capturing this once in a lifetime opportunity as Voyager 2 ventures into interstellar space,” says CSIRO chief executive Dr Marshall.

“Our team at Parkes has partnered with NASA on some of humanity’s most momentous steps in space, including the landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity and, almost 50 years ago, the Apollo 11 moon landing.”

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Alan Duffy is an astrophysicist at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. Twitter | @astroduff
  1. https://www.cdscc.nasa.gov/
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