Chris Alexander

On Engineering

IBEX Discovers Giant Ribbon In Heliosphere

18th October, 2009

During my normal browsing of Google Reader yesterday I came across a very interesting post on Slashdot about the NASA IBEX mission. I have to confess I’m a complete space nerd (and have been for many years), so any news like this is always of great interest to me.

IBEX stands for Interstellar Boundary Explorer, and is NASA’s first mission to look outside the reaches of our Sun in the Solar System, and into our place in the Milky Way.

The area IBEX is investigating is called the Interstellar Boundary Region; in this region, charged particles from the Sun (you may have heard of it as the Solar Wind) flow out far beyond Pluto and interact with the material that exists between stars.

The Solar System’s Heliosphere is a protective bubble that protects our Solar System from from cosmic radiation, travelling through space, that could seriously detriment life and the Solar System as we know it.

The picture below illustrates our Solar System moving through space in a right-to-left direction, with our Heliosphere deflecting the cosmic rays and shielding us.

Interestingly, IBEX has discovered a giant ribbon running through the Heliosphere; so far scientists say that it is a “shocking result”, and that its origin is currently unknown.

By far the best thing about this being a NASA mission is that all the media associated with it is available free - so I have included below an HD video showing how to interpret the IBEX map, and more information. Its well worth a watch.