Voyager Probes Spot New Type of Electron Burst Outside Solar System

This could help us better understand radiation in space.
Derya Ozdemir

The Voyager spacecraft which carry humanity's handprint through interstellar space have now detected a new type of "electron burst", according to a new study.

Physicists from the University of Iowa reported the first discovery of bursts of cosmic-ray electrons accelerated by shock waves originating from eruptions on the Sun, potentially providing insights into the mechanisms of exploding stars, per EurakAlert.

The new study was published in The Astronomical Journal.


The two Voyager probes were launched by NASA more than 40 years ago, and they are still teaching us so much. Reaching way beyond our solar system, they are providing a look into what lies in interstellar space, which remains somewhat mysterious to Earth-dwellers.

The latest data provided by both Voyager 1 and 2 founds that cosmic ray electrons are being accelerated by shock waves that originate in coronal mass ejections on the Sun, and are then thrown out at roughly a million miles an hour into space.

Voyager Probes Spot New Type of Electron Burst Outside Solar System
Source: NASA/JPL

These electron bursts travel ahead of the shock waves and reach nearly the speed of light by accelerating along with magnetic fields. After some time, the lower-energy electrons catch up and the shock waves themselves are detected by the spacecraft, Science Daily explains.

A unique type of solar electron burst

"The idea that shock waves accelerate particles is not new," says astrophysicist Don Gurnett from the University of Iowa. "It all has to do with how it works, the mechanism. And the fact we detected it in a new realm, the interstellar medium, which is much different than in the solar wind where similar processes have been observed. No one has seen it with an interstellar shock wave, in a whole new pristine medium."

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This discovery goes hand in hand with recent data. The authors interpreted these bursts of high-energy electrons as "arising from the reflection (and acceleration) of relativistic cosmic-ray electrons at the time of the first contact of the shock with the interstellar magnetic field line passing through the spacecraft."

These findings could help us understand exploding stars better and deal with radiation in space.