Near the Edge of the Solar System, Voyager 2 Finds Magnetic Fluff

By Andrew Moseman | December 29, 2009 4:40 pm

voyager2After three-plus decades of exploring the gas giants, passing the orbit of Pluto, and reaching points beyond, Voyager 2 has found something interesting near the edge of the solar system: surprisingly magnetic fluff. Researchers document their findings in this week’s Nature.

Of course, this fluff isn’t made from the dust bunnies you find under your bed, the ‘Local Fluff’ (a nickname for the Local Interstellar Cloud) is a vast, wispy cloud of hot hydrogen and helium stretching 30 light-years across [Discovery News]. Astronomers already knew this fluff was out there near the boundary area between our solar system and interstellar space. What surprised them is that the fluff is much more magnetized than they’d expected.

Voyager 2 isn’t actually in the fluff yet, but it can measure the area’s magnetism by observing how its magnetic field deforms the shape of the heliosphere, that balloon of space created by the solar wind pushing outward from our sun. The magnetic field is not only stronger than anticipated—3.7 to 5.5 microgauss—it’s also tilted off the galactic plane of the Milky Way by about 30 degrees, NASA investigator Merav Opher says. “The tilted field probably is a result from turbulence in the interstellar medium outside our solar system or results from collisions of clouds in the solar system neighborhood,” Opher says [USA Today].

Magnetism could answer the question of why the “Local Fluff” continues to exist at all. Though it formed from supernova remnants 10 million years ago, exhaust from other supernovae should have destroyed it by now. It would be like expecting a wisp of cigarette smoke to retain its structure in the middle of a tornado; some kind of force would need to be surrounding (or intertwined through) the smoke helping it resist being dispersed. In the case of the wispy Local Fluff, a magnetic field may be helping [Discovery News].

Next stop for Voyager 2: interstellar space, beyond the influence of the solar wind. By NASA’s calculations, the two voyagers have until about 2025 to keep exploring before their instruments operate no longer.

Related Content:
80beats: Voyager 2 Hits the Edge of the Solar System—And Writes Home
80beats: Solar Winds Drops to Lowest Recorded Level, Probe Finds
80beats: NASA Spacecraft Will Soon Map the Solar System’s Distant Edge
The Loom: Astrophilia, a tattooed ode to Voyager 2
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Aliens, including that the Voyager golden record contains a Bulgarian folk song

Image: NASA

  • Nick

    Why haven’t we been launching more, faster, longer-lasting voyager types, to see how far they get and what they find there. Need to extend our maps – and most important of all, keep an eye behind them on us.

    Why? Why not.

  • Corey
  • Student

    Nick, because there’s no much out there, and it takes a long time to get there.
    Blame part media, culture,
    Blame part space.

  • alien

    If only NASA made laptops like these die hard probes.

  • Hunter

    @alien. I wish they could, but it would require the power source these probes used…nuclear power. Its funny to contemplate such a device. Instead of a lithium ion battery, you would have a glowing red hot ball of uranium.

  • alien

    @hunter: Due to the demonstrated quality of work I anticipate they will select an appropriate power source for the intended use, such as a lithium battery that will last 30 years and isn’t stamped “CE”.

    However if the engineers decided that I need a nuclear power source, I would trust them to do it right far more than the crap the marketing demons are pimping.

    Going 14 billion km on one battery is just so much more impressive than paying Tiger Woods to promote your junk (because, its junk!).

  • HistoryTrekker

    What’s the difference between this “fluff” and the cosmic dust in interstellar space that’s packing deadly radiation? I’ve read that the prospect of interstellar radiation reaching the Earth, thanks to a reduction of Solar Wind, could have extremely harmful effects. The subject is discussed in a long piece called “Apocalypse 2012?”, posted at, on the third page. Can anyone explain this discrepancy? Perhaps there’s innocuous cosmic dust out there as well as the other…

  • Peten

    Here is a great wiki piece on the ‘local fluff’

    & another on the greater region.

    I think you will find this much more nutritious than apocalypse pop fiction. I wouldn’t expect much getting your science from articles that reference TV as a source… imo disregard the hocus pocus and keep an open mind where facts are sparse.

  • Blessed Geek

    Nick Said:December 29th, 2009 at 11:04 pm
    >Why haven’t we been launching more, faster, longer-lasting voyager types, to see

    Because we have global warming to remediate, anti-global-warming kooks to ward off, alqaida to defeat, treacherous double-agents to uncover, two and half wars to fight, hurricanes/earthquakes/tsunamis to rescue, an economy to repair, religions to propagate, new oil and gas wells to discover, cyber warfare to conduct, world hunger to feed, a public to educate why it’s cheaper to deorbit the space station than to maintain it, etc.

    It’s lucky that we even had a Voyager.

    We need a new world order, where economic health is accumulated not by manufacturing unnecessary things and then encouraging consumers to buy those unnecessaries – but an economy where wealth is accumulated by how much one has contributed to technologies to sustain the future of the human race and our expansion into the Universe.

  • Hom Sapiens Sapien-RoundupReady


    I think your political analysis of the situation is pretty shallow and your proposed solution right out. The NWO is the reason we don’t have more research; the democratic republic of the USA got us Voyager, Pioneer and many other landmark technological advances, the idiocy of alarmist politics produced the perception of scarcity to coerce obedience and suppress free thought: taxing innovation to death. Think, man!

    “America’s abundance was created not by public sacrifices to ‘the common good,’ but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.

    The goal of the ”liberals’—as it emerges from the record of the past decades—was to smuggle this country into welfare statism by means of single, concrete, specific measures, enlarging the power of the government a step at a time, never permitting these steps to be summed up into principles, never permitting their direction to be identified or the basic issue to be named. Thus, statism was to come, not by vote or by violence, but by slow rot—by a long process of evasion and epistemological corruption, leading to a fait accompli. The goal of the ‘conservative’ was only to retard that process.” – Ayn Rand

    IMO your vision of a rigidly ordered socialist system is idealistic fantasy. The best case in point is the despotic tyranny of Catholicism over Europe for the period euphemistically referred to as the Dark Ages, and the 500 year struggle to extricate scientific inquiry from this ignorant status quo.

    I vote with the portion of my earned income that the despots don’t appropriate for their corrupt programs and ‘charities’ that win them free learjet rides. You propose a program of slavcery, demanding I serve them in the hope that they will more efficiently continue the scientific advance? I don’t think so; they only fund weaponizing solutions. Why? To kill us uppity thinking people who might disrupt their monopoly game.

    So why would any rocket scientist work to advance the capabilities of their oppressors?

    Otherwise the geometry & nature of of the Local Cloud is fascinating.

  • How to sleep faster

    I saw in the newspaper that NASA stopped most of their activities.

    Can anyone confirm me that?

    I think it’s probably not true.



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