Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Spacecraft observes evolution of conditions at edge of solar system

Conditions at the edge of our solar system may be much more dynamic than previously thought, new observations suggest. Future exploration missions are expected to benefit in design and mission objectives from a better understanding of the changing conditions in this boundary region.

The new findings were published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Space Physics, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, has now produced a new set of "all-sky" maps of our solar system's interaction with the galaxy, allowing researchers to continue viewing and studying the interaction between our galaxy and sun.

The new maps, created using data collected during six months of observations, reveal changing conditions in the interstellar boundary region that separates the nearest reaches of our galaxy, called the local interstellar medium, from our heliosphere -- a protective bubble that shields and protects our solar system.

IBEX generates sky maps by measuring and counting particles referred to as energetic neutral atoms that are created in the interstellar boundary region. In October 2009, scientists announced that the first map data produced by IBEX revealed an unpredicted bright ribbon of energetic neutral atoms emanating toward the sun from the edge of the solar system. This discovery was unexpected to scientists, because the ribbon of bright emissions did not resemble any previous theoretical models of the region.

With the latest set of maps comes further new perspective. "Our discovery of changes over six months in the IBEX ribbon and other neutral atoms propagating in from the edge of our solar system show that the interaction of our sun and the galaxy is amazingly dynamic," said David J. McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "These variations are taking place on remarkably short timescales." The brevity of the timescales is striking given that the sun follows an approximately 11-year cycle and that the interstellar medium through which the solar system travels is thought to be nearly uniform over vast distances.

The maps made from IBEX data help delineate the interstellar boundary region, which shields our solar system from most of the dangerous galactic cosmic radiation that would otherwise enter from interstellar space. IBEX's neutral-atom imaging technique is required since the boundary region emits no light that can be collected by conventional telescopes. The interstellar boundary is where charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, flow outward far beyond the orbits of the planets and collide with material between stars. These collisions cause energetic neutral atoms to travel inward toward the sun from interstellar space at velocities ranging from 160,000 to more than 3.9 million kilometers per hour (100,000 mph to more than 2.4 million mph)

"This situational awareness provided by IBEX shows our place in space is not constant," said Dick Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "Better understanding of the dynamic environment of space is vital for successful planning for future exploration."

The IBEX spacecraft was launched in October 2008. Its science objective was to discover the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system.

The Southwest Research Institute developed and leads the IBEX mission with a team of national and international partners. The spacecraft is one of NASA's series of low-cost, rapidly developed missions in the Small Explorers Program. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

For images and animations of the IBEX mission, please visit the following NASA website:
"Evolving outer heliosphere: Large-scale stability and time variations observed by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer"
Contact information for the authors:
David J. McComas, IBEX Principal Investigator, Tel. +1 (210) 522-5983, Email

Maria-Jose Vinas | American Geophysical Union
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>