NASA‘s Voyager 1 spacecraft have now entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space. The data obtained from Voyager over the last year reveals this new region to be a sort of cosmic purgatory. In this area the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has become calmer, our solar system’s magnetic field is piled up, and higher energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.
Although Voyager 1 is about 18 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. Based on the latest data collected, the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, indicating Voyager is still within the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years.
Today on Tuesday, November 8, an asteroid with a diameter of 400 meters will approach Earth’s atmosphere. Named Asteroid 2005 YU55, and deemed “potentially hazardous” by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Ma. will fortunately miss Earth by 0.85 lunar distance, or approximately 335,000 kilometers (208,000 miles).
The approach will mark the closest a known object with this size, has ever gotten to a collision with Earth since 1976. This will as far as we know, continue to hold true until Asteroid 2001 WN5 gets within 0.6 lunar distance in 2028. The Asteroid visiting this evenings was discovered 6 years ago in 2005, and was later named Asteroid 2005 YU55 accordingly. Since this discovery was done rather late, there is still possibility that scientists may find other large floating rocks heading our way before the arrival of Asteroid 2001 WN5 in 2028.
At the 4th of October the first elements of Europe’s new Vega launch vehicle left Italy and began a long journey to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. This marked the final step towards it’s inaugural flight in January 2012. After several intense weeks of checking the hardware and equipment, the Vega’s Zefiro-23 and Zefiro-9 motors and the AVUM fourth stage were carefully packed and left Avio’s facility in Colleferro, where they were built. The equipment was then loaded onto the MN Colibri, in preparation for its its journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
The equipment for the qualification launcher arrived at the Dégrad de Cannes Harbour in Cayenne, French Guiana, and was then taken by road to Kourou where it arrived at the 24 of October. The launch campaign will then start on 7 November 2011 with the transfer of the first stage to the launch pad. The first launch for the Vega launcher is scheduled for the end of January 2012.
NASA‘s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in late September or early October 2011, almost six years after the end of a productive scientific life.
It is too early to say exactly when UARS will re-enter and what geographic area may be affected, but NASA is watching the satellite closely. Currently it could land anywhere between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south of the equator – most of the populated world. NASA say the risk to public safety or property is extremely small, approximately just 1 in 3,200.