By Hamish Johnston
Yesterday a paper appeared in Science that makes the case that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has left the solar system. The response from the press and commenters has been to declare this a day to remember. Indeed, some have likened it to 20 July 1969 when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon.
But when should we be celebrating? According to the scientific paper, the crossing occurred on 25 August 2012, so there is no point breaking out the champagne today. Indeed, it seems rather odd that we had to wait 13 months for the findings to be peer-reviewed in a scientific journal before we could celebrate. Even the Higgs party at CERN began before the results were published formally.
Some of this could be a result of Science’s policy of embargoing its papers before publication, effectively preventing the scientists from discussing their results with the public.
Another interesting aspect of this story is that there has been a long history of claim and counterclaim about when and where Voyager 1 will leave the solar system. Indeed, Science‘s press release about the paper is headlined “An exact date for Voyager’s departure from the heliosphere?”.
So don’t be surprised to hear some time in the future that maybe it hasn’t quite left yet!
The paper is entitled “In situ observations of interstellar plasma with Voyager 1″, and here is a selection of our coverage of the in-or-out debate: