Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is supporting NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft as it enters interstellar space – becoming only the second spacecraft, after its twin Voyager 1, to reach this milestone.

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Voyager 2 is approximately 18 billion kilometres from Earth. Voyager mission scientists have been closely monitoring the spacecraft for signs that it has exited the 'heliosphere', a protective bubble created by our Sun as we move through our galaxy.

NASA has today announced that on 5 November 2018, Voyager 2 crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere to reach the space between the stars.

On 8 November 2018, CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope joined NASA's Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), part of NASA's Deep Space Network, to receive unique and historic data from Voyager 2.

This provides a clearer picture of the environment through which Voyager 2 is travelling. The Parkes telescope will continue to receive downlink data into early 2019.

NASA has engaged the Parkes telescope to support receiving this historic data from Voyager 2 while CDSCC is busy with communications for other deep space missions that are making their own important encounters during this period, such as New Horizons' flyby of the most distant object yet to be explored by a spacecraft, coming up on New Year's Day.

Because of Voyager 2's location and distance from Earth, CDSCC and the Parkes telescope are the only facilities in the world that are capable of having contact with the spacecraft.

Voyager 2 isn't able to record its data on board – it transmits it directly from the instruments back to Earth – making it essential to receive as much of this vital data as possible.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said CSIRO was here to solve the greatest challenges with science.

"So 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," Dr Marshall said.

"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 fifty years ago, the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

"Our long-standing relationship with NASA stretches back more than 50 years, creating breakthrough solutions from science, and fuelled by our shared ambition to push the boundaries of exploration to benefit life back on Earth."

CSIRO Director of Astronomy and Space Science Dr Douglas Bock explained how the additional support from Parkes would track Voyager 2.

"The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which CSIRO operates on behalf of NASA, has been providing command, telemetry and control for the twin Voyager spacecraft since their launch in 1977," Dr Bock said.

"NASA has engaged our 64-metre Parkes radio telescope to 'combine forces' with CDSCC's 70-metre antenna, Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43), to capture as much scientifically valuable data as possible during this critical period.

"The Parkes telescope will be tracking Voyager 2 for 11 hours a day while the spacecraft is observable from Parkes. CDSCC's DSS43 will also track Voyager 2 for a number of hours both before and after Parkes, expanding the available observation time.

"This is a highlight of CSIRO's decades' worth of experience operating large, complex spacecraft tracking and radio astronomy infrastructure."

Voyager 1 crossed into interstellar space in 2012, while Voyager 2 has been on a different trajectory through our solar system.

On its journey, Voyager 2 has famously flown past Jupiter (in 1979), Saturn (in 1981), Uranus (in 1986) and Neptune (in 1989), returning valuable images and data.

For NASA's latest mission updates on the progress of Voyager 2 visit voyager.jpl.nasa.gov

The Parkes telescope is part of the Breakthrough Listen program, a global initiative to seek signs of technological signatures in the universe. CSIRO gratefully acknowledges the generous cooperation of the Breakthrough Initiatives in rescheduling time on the Parkes telescope to facilitate this exciting new science from the Voyager 2 spacecraft.

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Images

  • Radio telescope at night illuminated with red light under a starry sky.
  • Voyager 2 space craft in space.
  • Telescopes in bushland setting.

     ©David Howe

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  • An image of Neptune captured by the voyager 2.

    Magnificent Neptune came into view of Voyager 2’s cameras in August 1989. It’s atmosphere is mostly hydrogen and helium with trace amounts of ammonia, methane and water ice. Bright wispy ‘cirrus-type’ clouds can been seen against the blue atmosphere. Dominating Neptune’s face is the Great Dark Spot. This cyclonic storm is as wide as the planet Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL, image processed by Bjӧrn Jόnsson.

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  • An image of Uranus captured by the Voyager 2

    Getting a gravitational ‘kick’ from Saturn, Voyager 2 continued on to an encounter with the planet Uranus in January 1986. A planet tipped on its side, the Uranus’ north pole points towards the Sun. Small white cloud streaks were seen across an otherwise bland blue-green atmosphere. Voyager 2 used long image exposures to reveal Uranus’ complex ring structure, composed of dark, soot-like material. In this image, the dark rings have been composited onto an image of Uranus taken by Voyager 2 when it was still 9 million kilometres from the planet. Credit NASA/JPL, image processed by Calvin Hamilton.

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  • Graphs illustrating the drop in electrical current detected in three directions by Voyager 2's plasma science experiment (PLS) to background levels.

    The set of graphs on the left illustrates the drop in electrical current detected in three directions by Voyager 2's plasma science experiment (PLS) to background levels. They are among the key pieces of data that show that Voyager 2 entered interstellar space in November 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT.

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  • An image of Voyagers 2's location.

    This illustration shows the position of NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1 exited the heliosphere in August 2012. Voyager 2 exited at a different location in November 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Additional information

About CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope: Just outside the town of Parkes in the central-west region of New South Wales, about 380 kilometres from Sydney, is CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope. It's one of three instruments that make up the Australia Telescope National Facility. With a diameter of 64 metres, Parkes is one of the largest single-dish telescopes in the southern hemisphere dedicated to astronomy. It started operating in 1961, but only its basic structure has remained unchanged. The surface, control system, focus cabin, receivers, computers and cabling have all been upgraded – some parts many times – to keep the telescope at the cutting edge of radio astronomy. The telescope is now 10 000 times more sensitive than when it was commissioned. For more information on Parkes radio telescope visit www.csiro.au/Parkes

About the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex: Located 35 kilometres outside the nation’s capital, CDSCC is a part of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) which connects scientists around the world with their robotic spacecraft exploring the Solar System and beyond. Since 2010, CSIRO has partnered with NASA to manage the Canberra facility on their behalf. The DSN also has two other stations located near Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California. The Canberra facility is dominated by a massive 70 metre dish, the largest steerable parabolic antenna in the southern hemisphere. Along with three additional 34 metre dishes across the site, they transmit and receive data from over 40 missions in deep space, including both of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. For more information on CDSCC visit www.cdscc.nasa.gov

About CSIRO’s work in space: Over the past 75 years, CSIRO has built strong capabilities in Earth observation, radio astronomy, space tracking and managing complex facilities. CSIRO supports supply chains through advanced manufacturing, managing big data and helping small and medium enterprises (SMEs). CSIRO also has an established network of national and international partnerships throughout the space sector, and recently released our Space Roadmap. Find out more at www.csiro.au/space

About Voyager 2: NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977 and are currently the two furthest robotic spacecraft from Earth. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012. Due to its different trajectory, Voyager 2 exited the heliosphere, the boundary of the bubble around our Sun, on 5 November 2018. Scientists hope to learn more about this region as Voyager 2 enters interstellar space. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network, or DSN. For more information visit Voyager on NASA.gov

News release contact

Andrew Warren

Communications Advisor

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