Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UNH space scientists help catch the interstellar wind

19.10.2009
On Thursday, October 15, scientists and engineers from the University of New Hampshire's Space Science Center will celebrate the announcement of the first major results from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission, which will be published online Thursday in the journal Science in conjunction with a 2 p.m. press conference held at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The mission launched October 19, 2008 and carries two, ultra-high sensitivity, cameras containing important components designed and built at UNH. From a highly elliptical Earth orbit the IBEX satellite is exploring the outer solar system using unique energetic neutral atom imaging (instead of photons of light) to create maps of the boundary between our solar system and the rest of our galaxy.

The mission's first global, high- and low-energy maps show the interactions between the million-mile-per-hour solar wind and the low-density material between the stars, known as the interstellar medium, which blows through the solar system as a gentler 60,000-mile-per-hour interstellar wind due to the Sun's motion through our galactic neighborhood.

The maps provide a "big-picture" view of the region in space where the solar wind collides with interstellar gas to form the termination shock – the boundary of the huge, magnetic bubble that surrounds the Sun known as the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the Earth's first layer of protection from high-energy cosmic rays. The high-energy maps, which contain a bright "ribbon" snaking across the sky that nobody had expected, provide modelers with new real-world constraints needed to better understand how magnetic fields in the surrounding interstellar medium shape our heliosphere.

According to mission co-investigator Eberhard Möbius of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space and the Department of Physics, the capability to use neutral atoms to create an image has also allowed scientists to "catch and analyze the interstellar wind at Earth's doorstep."

Says Möbius, "What we have managed to do for the first time is catch the interstellar wind for three species of energetic neutral atoms – helium, hydrogen, and oxygen." This image shows up as the brightest feature in the low-energy maps.

Like water flowing around a rock in a river, the electrically charged "plasma" component of the interstellar medium is forced around the heliosphere due to electrical and magnetic forces (a fraction of all interstellar atoms have lost electrons, the resulting mix of positive ions and negative electrons forms a plasma). While passing through this region, neutral hydrogen and oxygen atoms are partially dragged along by the plasma whereas neutral helium passes straight through. By comparing the arrival directions of these three different species at the IBEX spacecraft, scientists extract the subtle deflection at the boundary of the heliosphere and, thus, learn about the forces that shape it.

"We're just now getting a handle on the interaction of the surrounding interstellar medium with the heliosphere and that's providing us with the big picture," Möbius says. More broadly, the IBEX data will help scientists understand the underlying physics operating in this same boundary region – the astrosphere – of other stars.

"The new and unexpected findings by IBEX will revolutionize our understanding of the heliosphere", says IBEX principal investigator Dave McComas, of the Southwest Research Institute.

Scientists and engineers at the UNH Space Science Center designed and built a major portion of IBEX's sensor payload – the "time-of-flight" mass spectrometer that can identify specific species of energetic neutral atoms, the iris or "collimator" of the specialized cameras, and the star sensor that tells with very high accuracy from which direction the interstellar gas is coming. Two undergraduate students, Morgan O'Neill and George Clark, conducted independent research calibrating the star sensor over their four years at UNH – work that helped launch them both into Ph.D. programs upon graduation.

IBEX is the latest in NASA's series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorers space missions. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, TX, leads and developed the mission with a team of national and international partners. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Explorers Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Funding for UNH's role in the IBEX mission was received from NASA under a subcontract with SwRI.

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 11,800 undergraduate and 2,400 graduate students.

Image available to download: http://www.eos.unh.edu/newsimage/ibex_sci_lg.jpg.

Photo caption: Arrival of interstellar hydrogen, helium, and oxygen atoms as seen in the IBEX-Lo sky maps. The Sun's gravitation deflects the interstellar wind away from its original arrival direction, i.e. coming from the nose of the heliosphere. (Image by the University of New Hampshire and Boston University)

David Sims | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.unh.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht MSU astronomers discovered supermassive black hole in an ultracompact dwarf galaxy
14.08.2018 | Lomonosov Moscow State University

nachricht ASU astrophysicist helps discover that ultrahot planets have starlike atmospheres
13.08.2018 | Arizona State University

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: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

Im Focus: World record: Fastest 3-D tomographic images at BESSY II

The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

'Building up' stretchable electronics to be as multipurpose as your smartphone

14.08.2018 | Information Technology

During HIV infection, antibody can block B cells from fighting pathogens

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

First study on physical properties of giant cancer cells may inform new treatments

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>