Who says life slows down in your thirties?
Not NASA, that's for sure. The space station's 36-year-old 1977 probe Voyager 1 has finally reached the deepest and darkest pits of what's called "interstellar" space, leaving this cruel world behind (okay, technically, our entire solar system) and entering into a new realm of undiscovered territory. And NASA's not above a good riff: "Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before," said the station's official statement, not at all sexually.
Voyager 1 was developed to study and locate the boundaries of the solar system, which is kind of dizzying if you think about it too long. It has plowed steady ahead since its launch in 1977, and along the way has become the farthest man-made object from Earth, entered "cosmic purgatory" — yes, that's a real thing — and discovered something called the "magnetic highway." It actually left our Solar System a year ago, thus throwing itself into the deepest corners of space, but NASA didn't have the official data to confirm its location until recently.
So what exactly is "interstellar" space? A quick brush-up on space physics: we have Earth, its surrounding planets (Jupiter, Venus, and so on) and the Sun, which makes up our solar system. Our solar system is one of many within our galaxy, the Milky Way. And there are God knows how many galaxies inside of the universe, which can roughly be defined as "everything that exists." Voyager 1 has flown idly past all of our planets, passed the Sun, and now slipped outside of our solar system. It's now in interstellar space, meaning that it's floating around in the space between stars in the Milky Way.
Unfortunately, the years have taken their toll on Voyager 1. One of the probe's navigation tools started malfunctioning in 1980, which is why space scientists have taken so long to figure out exactly where it is. By 2030, it'll still be exploring, but we won't really be able to access it anymore — which is where its sibling, Voyager 2, comes in. Voyager 2 was launched in the same year as its predecessor, but fortunately has barely malfunctioned. In a few years, it'll hit interstellar space too, and then, scientists say, "it's going to teach us even more."
So what's in store for Voyager 1, even when we lose track of it? Well, get this: in just 40,000 years, it'll come close-ish to another star, called the Gliese 445. Right. Riveting stuff.