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On Its Way to Interstellar Space, Voyager 1 Explores the Magnetic Highway


This image shows NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft exploring a new region in our solar system called the "magnetic highway." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When NASA launched its Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft 33 years ago, the probes' primary mission was to explore Jupiter and Saturn. But the two satellites have performed above and beyond their original duty: As of March 2012, Voyager 2 was 14.7 billion kilometers away from Earth, in the heliosheath—the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas—and yesterday, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, scientists reported that Voyager 2 has entered a new region at the edge of our solar system, which they believe is the final area the spacecraft has to cross before hitting interstellar space: a magnetic highway for charged particles.

Scientists call this region a magnetic highway because of the connection between our sun's magnetic field lines and interstellar magnetic field lines, which allows lower-energy charged particles from our heliosphere to zoom out into interstellar space, and higher-energy particles from outside to come in. Before Voyager 1 entered this region for the first time on July 28, the charged particles bounced in all directions, "as if trapped on local roads inside the heliosphere," according to a NASA press release. The region ebbed and flowed toward Voyager 1 several times before the craft entered it again on August 25; the environment has since been stable. The magnetic highway is still inside our solar system, scientist believe, the because the direction of the magnetic field lines haven't changed. (The Voyager probes are sending data back to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory through the Deep Space Network, or DSN.)

"Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager."

So what's it like on this magnetic highway? Voyager 1 reports back that solar winds have slowed to zero, and the magnetic field is about 10 times more intense than before the termination shock, which it crossed in December 2004.

Here's a fun animation, courtesy of NASA, of Voyager 1 on the magnetic highway:

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science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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History
Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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