Science and Technology
6:18 pm
Thu September 12, 2013

University of Iowa researchers behind Voyager I's big announcement

NASA has announced the Voyager I spacecraft, launched in 1977, has gone where no human-made vessel has gone before—interstellar space. And that discovery was made at the University of Iowa.

Iowa Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren caught up with the UI scientist who first realized Voyager had made it.

UI's Bill Kurth remembers the discovery.

The frequencies showing that Voyager had left the outer reaches of the solar system were detected by a plasma wave instrument on board Voyager I, built at the University of Iowa in the 1970s. Research scientists including UI’s Bill Kurth regularly monitor the data.

"I typically will process Voyager data in the evenings when I go home, because it’s quiet and it’s something I can do fairly quickly," Kurth said.

In April, Kurth sat down to look through some charts from the week before, and…

"As soon as I saw them, I said this is it, this is what we’ve been waiting for, for decades, literally," he said.

The readings showed oscillations consistent with what scientists expected would happen when Voyager I passed the heliosphere on the outer edge of the solar system.

It was the first sign that Voyager I had passed into interstellar space, further than any man made craft has ever gone.

Kurth and three other authors, including UI's Don Gurnett, published their findings in Science on Thursday. They will present a public lecture at UI on September 16.

For the full NASA press conference announcing the discovery, click here.