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October 11 2012

Did NASA's Voyager 1 Spacecraft Just Exit the Solar System?

It will be another giant leap for mankind when NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft becomes the first manmade object to venture past the solar system's edge and into the uncharted territory of interstellar space. But did this giant leap already occur?

New data from the spacecraft indicate that the historic moment of its exit from the solar system might have come and gone two months ago. Scientists are crunching one more set of numbers to find out for sure.

Voyager 1, which left Earth on Sept. 5, 1977, has since sped to a distance of 11.3 billion miles (18.2 billion kilometers) from the sun, making it the farthest afield of any manmade object. (It has 2 billion miles on its twin, Voyager 2, which took a longer route through the solar system.) Still phoning home (via radio transmissions) after 35 years, the Voyagers are the longest operating spacecraft in history.

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