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March 28, 2007: Read a letter from Pioneer Project Anomaly project director Slava Turyshev on the status of the analysis of the recovered Pioneer data.
Something strange is happening in the outer reaches of our solar system. The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft are not where they are supposed to be. These missions, launched in 1972 and 1973, have covered hundreds of millions of kilometers, heading toward the edge of our solar system. But something is holding them back. Each year, they fall behind in their projected travel by about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles).
Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist John Anderson and his colleagues have been searching for an explanation since 1980. But as of yet, they have found nothing conclusive; no spacecraft behavior or previously unknown property of the outer solar system can explain the deceleration of the Pioneer spacecraft. Scientists are being forced to consider the unthinkable: something may be wrong with our understanding of the laws of physics. An important line of inquiry will be to study mounds of Doppler (velocity) data and spacecraft status data (like temperatures) that have been unavailable to researchers—but that is about to change.
Focus: the Pioneer anomaly
To date, the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft are the most precisely navigated deep-space vehicles. However, as indicated by their radio-metric data, the Pioneers’ orbit reconstructions were limited by a small, anomalous, constant, blue-shifted, Doppler frequency drift of approximately 6 x 10^-9 Hz/s. The drift can be interpreted as due to a constant sunward acceleration of a_P = (8.74 ± 1.33) 10^-10 m/s^2. This interpretation has become known as the Pioneer anomaly.
Although the most obvious explanation would be that there is a systematic origin to the effect, the limited set of the analyzed data does not support any of the suggested mechanisms. We assert that analysis of the entire existing Pioneer data is vital to understanding the anomaly and, hopefully, to finding its origin. Indeed, analysis of the entire existing Pioneer data record is critical in attacking the anomaly on two fronts: (i) an analysis of the early, not rigorously analyzed, data could yield a more accurate direction of the anomaly and hence might help to determine its origin; (ii) by using the entire data set, from 1972 to 2002, one could study the temporal evolution of the anomaly and determine if it is due to on-board nuclear fuel inventory and related heat radiation or other mechanism.
Anyone know whether the Voyager probes also show this anomaly?
Originally posted by Mogget
As I understand it, trajectory data from the Voyagers can't be used because they are three axis stabilised spacecraft that fire thrusters to maintain the correct orientation with respect to target objects. Those thruster firings introduce uncertainties in the tracking data that would mask the effects of the "Pioneer anomaly". The Pioneer probes are spin stabilised, and apparently this means that their orbital trajectories can be calculated far more precisely.
After launch, a spacecraft accepts electrons from the surrounding space plasma until the craft’s voltage is sufficient to repel further electrons. Near Earth it is known that a spacecraft may attain a negative potential of several tens of thousands of volts relative to its surroundings. So, in interplanetary space, the spacecraft becomes a charged object moving in the Sun’s weak electric field. Being negatively charged, it will experience an infinitesimal “tug” toward the positively charged Sun. Of most significance is the fact that the voltage gradient, that is the electric field, throughout interplanetary space remains constant. In other words, the retarding force on the spacecraft will not diminish with distance from the Sun. This effect distinguishes the electrical model from all others because all known force laws diminish with distance. The effect is real and it will have a fundamental impact on cosmology and spacecraft navigation because Pioneer 10 is now 7.4 billion miles from Earth, maybe 90 percent of the way to the heliopause. The electrical model of the solar system predicts that additional anomalies will be found if a distant spacecraft encounters the heliopause while still in contact with Earth. For the heliopause is the “cathode drop” region of the Sun’s electrical influence. It is a region of strong radial electric field, which will tend to decelerate the spacecraft more strongly. Almost the full difference between the Sun’s voltage and that of the local arm of the galaxy is present across the heliopause boundary. As a result, it is the region where so-called “anomalous” cosmic rays are generated by the strong field. It has nothing to do with a shock front and some poorly defined acceleration mechanism. Some measure of the driving electrical potential of the Sun may be gained from the study of “anomalous” cosmic rays. Also we can deduce the driving potential of other stars by the study of normal cosmic rays.
Originally posted by squiz
There is a potential answer to the mystery but it means looking at our sun in a completely different light, as an electrical phenomena and not the nuclear fusion myth.
The Electric sun model makes much sense, and can easily explain many of the mysteries the present model cannot explain without resorting to ad hoc explanations.