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Voyager 1 now most distant man-made object in space

NASA animation of the Voyager 1 spacecraft  

Should reach edge of solar system in 3-5 years

February 17, 1998
Web posted at: 8:38 p.m. EST (0138 GMT)

PASADENA, California (CNN) -- The Voyager 1 spacecraft became the most distant man-made object in space Tuesday, passing the mark set by the previous record-holder, Pioneer 10.

Launched more than two decades ago, Voyager 1 is now 6.5 billion miles (10.4 billion kilometers) away from the sun and is traveling at 39,000 miles per hour. It entered the record books at about 5 p.m. EST.

NASA animation of Voyager 1
video icon 1.32MB/24 sec./ 240x180
QuickTime movie

Voyager 1 and Pioneer 10 are both traveling away from the sun, although in almost exactly opposite directions.

Voyager 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral on September 5, 1977, on a mission to explore the solar system. It passed Jupiter on March 5, 1979, and Saturn on November 12, 1980.

Paths of both the Voyager 1 and Pioneer 10  

As it passed Saturn, gravity from Saturn's moon Titan caused Voyager 1 to fly out of the "ecliptic plane" -- the plane in which all the planets but Pluto orbit -- and off into outer space.

The spacecraft is still functioning, and, along with its twin, Voyager 2, is exploring the outer reaches of the solar system.

It is now beyond the planets, where the sun's electromagnetic field tapers off and interstellar space begins.

Astronomers are interested in the location and structure of this boundary area and eagerly await the data Voyager 1 will send back as it "crosses over" and exits the solar system. That should happen within the next three to five years.

The Pioneer 10, which was the most distant man-made object until Voyager came along, was launched March 2, 1972. Its mission officially ended on March 31, 1997, but it is still partially functional, and NASA scientists occasionally check in on it.


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