I’ve spent the majority of the last week out of town participating in a documentary shoot with the National Geographic company (from which updates will be added here soon), so unfortunately a good bit of the news I’d normally be getting to here at the Gralien Report has eluded me. However, one of my News Correspondents, Jim, sent this along today, courtesy of NASA:
For years, researchers have known that the solar system is surrounded by a vast bubble of magnetism. Called the “heliosphere,” it springs from the sun and extends far beyond the orbit of Pluto, providing a first line of defense against cosmic rays and interstellar clouds that try to enter our local space. Although the heliosphere is huge and literally fills the sky, it emits no light and no one has actually seen it.
NASA’s IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft has made the first all-sky maps of the heliosphere and the results have taken researchers by surprise. The maps are bisected by a bright, winding ribbon of unknown origin (see image above).
“This is a shocking new result,” says IBEX principal investigator Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute. “We had no idea this ribbon existed–or what has created it. Our previous ideas about the outer heliosphere are going to have to be revised.”
Although the ribbon looks bright in the IBEX map, it does not glow in any conventional sense. The ribbon is not a source of light, but rather a source of particles–energetic neutral atoms or ENAs. IBEX’s sensors can detect these particles, which are produced in the outer heliosphere where the solar wind begins to slow down and mix with interstellar matter from outside the solar system.
“This ribbon winds between the two Voyager spacecraft and was not observed by either of them,” notes Eric Christian, IBEX deputy mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s like having two weather stations, but missing the big storm that runs between them.”
It is fascinating how often weird things like this are discovered in space, and as mentioned toward the end of the article, right between two Voyager craft without detection. No doubt, stranger things lay waiting…
Special thanks to Gralien Report Correspondent Jim Kotajarvi for the news tip.