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Out at the edge of the solar system, surprises for Voyager 1 (+video)

Voyager 1 seems to have hit the doldrums as it approaches the edge of the sun's sphere of influence. Still, says a lead scientist, 'We all have the sense that something big is imminent.'

A look behind the scenes at Voyager 1 operations on the ground.
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The closer Voyager 1 gets to interstellar space 35 years after leaving Earth, the more surprises it is springing on mission scientists as they repeat a question familiar to any parent who has taken a child on a long road trip: Are we there yet?

Features that, according to theory, Voyager should be detecting by now if it's close to the boundary between the sun's sphere of influence and interstellar space haven't appeared, according to a new study appearing in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

But subsequent data taken over the past few months and yet to be published also show activity no theorist predicted and could hint at the beginning of Voyager's breakout.

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"We all have the sense that something big is imminent," says Stamatios Krimigis, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and the lead scientist on one of Voyager's still-operating instruments.

But, he adds, "If I were a theorist I would feel pretty humble right about now."

Expecting the unexpected is the bread and butter of exploration, and the edge of the solar system is as good an illustration of that as any place NASA has sent a spacecraft.

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