Accurate timing of the incoming ENAs allows the IBEX team to obtain a higher resolution in the latitudinal direction. The inset at right shows some of the fine detail of the ribbon.  Credit: Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)

Spacecraft Detects Mysterious “Ribbon” at Edge of Solar System

15 Oct , 2009

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Since it launched a year ago, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) has been monitoring heliosphere and how our Sun interacts with and the local interstellar medium — the gas and dust trapped in the vacuum of space. The first results from the mission, combined with data from the Cassini mission, are showing the heliosphere to be different from what researchers have previously thought. Data show an unexpected bright band or ribbon of surprisingly high-energy emissions. “We knew there would be energetic neutral atoms coming in from the very edge of the heliosphere, and our theories said there would be small variations in their emissions,” said David McComas, IBEX Principal Investigator at a press conference on Thursday. “But instead we are seeing two-to-three hundred percent variations, and this is not entirely understood. Whatever we thought about this before is definitely not right.”

The energies IBEX has observed range from 0.2 to 6.0 kiloelectron volts, and the scientists said its flux is two to three times greater than the ENA activity throughout the rest of the heliosphere. McComas and his colleagues said that no existing model can explain all the dominant features of this “ribbon.” Instead, they suggest that these new findings will prompt a change in our understanding of the heliosphere and the processes that shape it.

This image illustrates one possible explanation for the bright ribbon of emission seen in the IBEX map. The galactic magnetic field shapes the heliosphere as it drapes over it. The ribbon appears to trace the area where the magnetic field is most parallel to the surface of the heliosphere (the heliopause).  Credit:  Southwest Research institute

This image illustrates one possible explanation for the bright ribbon of emission seen in the IBEX map. The galactic magnetic field shapes the heliosphere as it drapes over it. The ribbon appears to trace the area where the magnetic field is most parallel to the surface of the heliosphere (the heliopause). Credit: Southwest Research institute


McComas suggested that the energetic neutral atom (ENA) ribbon could be caused by interactions between the heliosphere and the local interstellar magnetic field. “The local interstellar magnetic field is oriented in such a way that it correlates with the ribbon. If you ‘paint’ the ribbon on the boundary of the heliosphere, the magnetic field is like big bungie cords that pushing in along the sides and at southern part of the heliosphere. Somehow the magnetic field seems to be playing a dominant roll in these interactions, but we don’t know it could produced these higher fluxes. We have to figure out what physics were are missing.”

The solar wind streaks away from the sun in all directions at over a millions kilometers per hour. It creates a bubble in space around our solar system.

For the first ten billion kilometers of its radius, the solar wind travels at over a million kilometers per hour. It slows as it begins to collide with the interstellar medium, and the point where the solar wind slows down is the termination shock; the point where the interstellar medium and solar wind pressures balance is called the heliopause; the point where the interstellar medium, traveling in the opposite direction, slows down as it collides with the heliosphere is the bow shock.

The heliosphere. Credit: NASA

The heliosphere. Credit: NASA


The Voyager spacecraft have explored this region, but didn’t detect the ribbon. Team member Eric Christian said the ribbon wound in between the location of Voyager 1 and 2, and they couldn’t detect it in their immediate areas. Voyager 1 spacecraft encountered the helioshock in 2004 when it reached the region where the charged particles streaming off the sun hit the neutral gas from interstellar space. Voyager 2 followed into the solar system’s edge in 2007. While these spacecraft made the first explorations of this region, IBEX is now revealing a a more complete picture, filling in where the Voyagers couldn’t. Christian compared Voyager 1 and 2 to be like weather stations while IBEX is first weather satellite to provide more complete coverage.

McComas said his first reaction when the data started coming in was that of terror because he thought something must be wrong with the spacecraft. But as more data kept coming back each week, the team realized that they were wrong, and the spacecraft was right.

“Our next steps will be to go through all the detailed observations and rack them up against the various models and go find what it is that we are missing, what we’ve been leaving out,” he said.

For more information and visuals, see this NASA webpage.

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MichaelL
Member
MichaelL
October 15, 2009 11:22 PM

Dave Finton beat me to it! However, there was an episode from TOS, I think one of the first, where the Enterprise encountered an energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy as well!

Dave Finton
Member
October 15, 2009 4:45 PM

Hopefully it’s not the Nexus ribbon from Star Trek: Generations. I wouldn’t want Soran blowing up our Sun to alter its path just so he can experience nirvana once again.

Seriously, this is pretty cool. I wonder how dynamic this ribbon is (i.e. does it change shape over time?).

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
October 15, 2009 4:59 PM

Damn – a year since this thing was launched!? I am getting old quickly.

Great to see some results from this thing though – I think it is a very interesting mission…

Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
October 15, 2009 5:18 PM

Gotta be Nibiru. Now there’s proof from NASA smile

Anaconda
Member
Anaconda
October 15, 2009 9:45 PM
“Whatever we thought about this before is definitely not right.” “We have to figure out what physics were are missing.” Gee, could they be plasma physics they are missing? “…[T]he Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) has been monitoring heliosphere and how our Sun interacts with and the local interstellar medium — the gas and dust trapped in the vacuum of space.” Try again, as in ionized dust and plasma, charged particles. Don’t think so? “Somehow the magnetic field seems to be playing a dominant roll in these interactions…” Magnetic fields don’t effect neutral gas or dust. But magnetic fields do effect plasma and ionized dust. “The local interstellar magnetic field is oriented in such a way that it correlates… Read more »
Nexus
Member
October 15, 2009 11:45 PM

I hope IBEX hangs around and collects data for a long time. It would be good to know just what happens as the intensity of the solar wind varies with the solar cycle.

SteveZodiac
Member
SteveZodiac
October 16, 2009 3:59 AM

This is why we have to observe things and not just theorise, clearly our understanding of physics is about to undergo a revision. The EU theorists are going to have a field day but we seem to be getting more and more evidence that things down here on Earth are not the same as they are out there in space,

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
October 16, 2009 4:36 AM
in Anaconda’s own deluded mind that holds fanciful figments of imagination, NOT the science itself. Pragmatism – an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application – is clearly not his strong suit. Really to make such wrong and wild attention-grabbing sweeping statements against mathematics and science (minus any real proof) shows the reality of his sad diagnosable psychotic personality flaws. In the end, this silly Anaconda chap is the true representative of prima donna – a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance. Sadly he has neither! When in reality it is just success, plain and simple. So-called “Anaconda… Read more »
DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
October 16, 2009 4:42 AM

I just found out that a lecturer of me is involved in this research. I just want to note that he definitely works with plasma physics.

statavina
Member
statavina
October 16, 2009 6:56 AM

seems both Anaconda and B Crumb disregard the basic comment policy.

anyway, i’m currently appreciating this tricky belt/ribbon/hash mark/brace thing for what it could be instead of immediately trying to demystify it for what it should be.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
October 16, 2009 7:40 AM
That was some pretty nifty visuals, I don’t think I would have understand the article as much without them. Typically when you have some sort of high (energy) neutral flux in connection with a magnetic field you are looking at a dynamic effect. This can be seen everywhere from low plasma processes (where neutrals are accelerated by the rf variation of the plasma) to atmospheres (where I hear the Mars atmosphere expulsion gets a significant boost by its distorted multipole field as magnetic “pockets” are sheared off into space – Mars partial field is not protecting the atmosphere as Earth’s full dipole, it is “pumping” it). Finally, the EU troll: the first three commenters didn’t have much relevant… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
October 16, 2009 8:05 AM
A few notes, offered as friendly but possibly silly criticism: The EU theorists First, I don’t think it makes sense or is beneficial to call EU believers “theorists”. As a theory, “it”. whatever it is, is falsified: EM fields isn’t a major force that drive or explain the large scale structure of universe. (Aside from the trivial fact that if there wasn’t symmetry of charge and near equality of numbers, it would be a different universe.) And a real theorist would never chase a false theory needlessly. [He or she may use it as a convenient or illustrative model for aspects of reality however, in the same way that Newton gravity simplifies or illustrate gravitation. But that is… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
October 16, 2009 8:10 AM

D’oh! “low plasma processes” – low energy plasma processes.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
October 16, 2009 8:14 AM

Double d’oh! Low _pressure_ plasma processes. [Reach for coffee cup, time for refill.]

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
October 16, 2009 8:28 AM

anaconda deserves no quarter no respite.
The fool keep posting insidious irrelevancies

I mean;

Of course, magnetic fields are caused by electric current, as confirmed by NASA: “Moreover, electric current causes magnetic fields (see Electromagnetism)…

Who needs NASA to confirm this?? Even a very young elementary school kid knows this to be true!!

I have never seen a post like Anaconda’s here that says so little, yet says nothing!

As I’ve already said;

Really in the end Anaconda knows absolutely nothing.

earls
Member
earls
October 16, 2009 12:28 PM
“EM fields isn’t a major force that drive or explain the large scale structure of universe.” Citation? If gravity is the end-all-be-all of large scale structuring, I suppose you have the answers to the “dark” questions. ‘The heliospheric current sheet is a ripple in the heliosphere created by the Sun’s rotating magnetic field. Extending throughout the heliosphere, it is _considered the largest structure in the Solar System_ and is said to resemble a “ballerina’s skirt”‘ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliosphere Yes. EM has absolutely nothing to do with the single largest structure of the solar system. Good job. Oh wait, the magnetic field is created by gravity (the mysterious dynamo effect [still unexplained and undemonstrated]), so nevermind, you’re absolutely right. No point… Read more »
Anaconda
Member
Anaconda
October 16, 2009 12:53 PM
SBC, pleasant fellow that guy. @ statavina, SBC’s comments speak for themselves, but where specifically do you think my comment violated the moderation policy? @ Torbjorn Larsson OM, Larsson wrote: “Funny, because that [irrelevant analysis] is exactly what you yourself offer.” Actually, in some sense you are right, most of my comment simply quoted the researchers own statements, and offered a few points of analysis about plasma physics and magnetic fields, which as one of the researchers said was playing a “dominant” role in these processes at the heliopause. Larsson wrote: “Making a random list of magnetic effects isn’t making an analysis, it’s making obeisance to a religious belief.” A telling bit of overstretch to compare my comment… Read more »
Aqua4U
Member
October 16, 2009 12:59 PM

Something about the offset between Sol’s mag. field and the galactic mag. field is unsettling. Does this indicate that Sol is a captured stellar object – origins in a smaller galaxy? If not.. did Sol’s mag. field get ‘whacked’? Or is it indicative and relative to our star’s motion thru the galactic disk?

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
October 16, 2009 3:23 PM

Anaconda said;

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,

You really sound like a broken record. Listen . Stop blithering on again and again about things you think you know about, because as most people see it (here and elsewhere), much of is just the same recycled smelly garbage.

Really in the end Anaconda knows absolutely nothing!

The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
October 16, 2009 3:25 PM

Anaconda deserves no quarter, and no respite, by anyone here.

The fool just keeps posting insidious irrelevancies.

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