Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

IBEX Reveals a Missing Boundary At the Edge Of the Solar System

11.05.2012
For the last few decades, space scientists have generally accepted that the bubble of gas and magnetic fields generated by the sun – known as the heliosphere – moves through space, creating three distinct boundary layers that culminate in an outermost bow shock. This shock is similar to the sonic boom created ahead of a supersonic jet.

Earth itself certainly has one of these bow shocks on the sunward side of its magnetic environment, as do most other planets and many stars. A collection of new data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), however, now indicate that the sun does not have a bow shock.

In a paper appearing online in Science Express on May 10, 2012, scientists compile data from IBEX, NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft, and computer models to show that the heliosphere just isn't moving fast enough to create a bow shock in the tenuous and highly magnetized region in our local part of the galaxy.

"IBEX gives a global view. It shows the whole of this region," says Eric Christian who is the mission scientist for IBEX at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and who was formerly the program scientist for Voyager. "At the same time the Voyager spacecraft are actually there, in situ, measuring its environment at two locations. The combination of IBEX and Voyager gives you great science and now the new IBEX results strongly indicate that there is no bow shock."

Since the 1980s, the boundaries of the heliosphere have largely been assumed to be a series of three. The first is a fairly spherical boundary called the termination shock -- the point where the solar wind streaming from the sun slows down below supersonic speeds. From there the wind continues more slowly until it collides with the material in the rest of the galaxy and is pushed back, deflecting around the outskirts of the heliosphere, streaming back toward the tail of the moving bubble. This second boundary is called the heliopause. The third boundary was thought to be the bow shock, formed as the heliosphere plowed its way through the local galactic cloud the same way a supersonic jet pushes aside the air as it moves.

The two Voyager spacecraft have confirmed the existence of the first boundary, and have seen evidence for the second as they move toward it. However, each Voyager spacecraft has seen different things on their respective trips – one moving in a more northerly direction, one moving more to the south. They've encountered different regions at different distances from the sun, suggesting the very shape of the heliosphere is squashed and asymmetrical. Scientists believe this asymmetry is caused by the force and direction of magnetic fields ramming into the heliosphere from outside, the same way a hand pushing on a balloon will force it out of shape. This was the first clue that there's a strong magnetic field exerting pressure on the outskirts of the solar system. Independently, IBEX has seen a well-defined band, or ribbon, at the edge of the heliosphere, believed to be defined by this external magnetic field. Other studies from IBEX have helped quantify the magnitude of the magnetic field, showing that it is on the strong end of what was previously thought possible.

› View larger
Stars travel through the galaxy surrounded by a bubble of charged gas and magnetic fields, rounded at the front and trailing into a long tail behind. The bubble is called an astrosphere, or -- in the case of the one around our sun -- a heliosphere. This image shows a few examples of astrospheres that are very strong and therefore visible. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center "We've seen one after another signature of a very strong magnetic field in the galactic environment," says Nathan Schwadron, a space scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham who is one of the authors on the paper. "That magnetic field influences the structure of the heliosphere and the boundaries themselves. That leads to a whole new paradigm."

Along with increased evidence for a strong external magnetic field, IBEX has also provided a new measurement for the speed of the heliosphere itself with respect to the local cloud.

"We recently analyzed two years worth of IBEX data, and they showed that the speed of the heliosphere – with respect to the local cloud of material – is only 52,000 miles per hour, instead of the previously believed 59,000," says David McComas at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, who is first author on this paper and also the principal investigator for IBEX. "That might not seem like a huge difference, but it translates to a quarter less pressure exerted on the boundaries of the heliosphere. This means there's a very different interaction, a much weaker interaction, than previously thought."

In essence, it means that, like an airplane going too slowly to produce a sonic boom, the heliosphere isn't moving fast enough to create a bow shock, given the density and pressures of the material its moving through.

The heliosphere's boundaries lie roughly 10 billion miles away from Earth, but are nonetheless crucial for understanding our place in the universe. Indeed, the heliopause provides some protection for our solar system from the harsh, radiation environment surrounding it. By knowing the nature of these boundaries, scientists can start to better understand the propagation of particles that do have enough energy and speed to make it into our environment.

As scientists incorporate this substantive new understanding into their physical models, they will also be waiting for more evidence from both IBEX and the Voyagers, which they hope will continue to send back observations for many years to come.

"Imagine the point at which Voyager crosses the threshold of the heliopause and either does or does not see what IBEX is predicting," says Schwadron. "There will be enormous opportunities for scientific advancement."

For more information about the IBEX mission, go to:
› http://www.nasa.gov/ibex
Karen C. Fox
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Susan Hendrix | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ibex/news/nobowshock.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht When fluid flows almost as fast as light -- with quantum rotation
22.06.2018 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

nachricht Thermal Radiation from Tiny Particles
22.06.2018 | Universität Greifswald

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: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>