Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Spacecraft observes evolution of conditions at edge of solar system

01.10.2010
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.

Images:
For images and animations of the IBEX mission, please visit the following NASA website: http://www.nasa.gov/ibex
Title:
"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 DMcComas@swri.edu

Maria-Jose Vinas | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

nachricht Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino
16.07.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts

18.07.2018 | Life Sciences

Machine-learning predicted a superhard and high-energy-density tungsten nitride

18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

Why might reading make myopic?

18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>