Friday, October 16, 2009

High-Energy Emissions From the Edge of the Solar System

"Mystery Emissions Spotted at Edge of Solar System " (October 15, 2009)

"In the murky boundary between our solar system and the rest of the galaxy, scientists have spotted a bright band of surprising high-energy emissions.

"The results come from the first all-sky map created by NASA's new Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft, which launched in October 2008. While orbiting Earth, IBEX monitors incoming neutral atoms that originate billions of miles away at the solar system's edge to learn about the interaction between the sun and the cold expanse of space.

" 'The IBEX results are truly remarkable, with emissions not resembling any of the current theories or models of this never-before-seen region,' said David McComas, IBEX principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas. 'We expected to see small, gradual spatial variations at the interstellar boundary, some 10 billion miles away. However, IBEX is showing us a very narrow ribbon that is two to three times brighter than anything else in the sky.'..."

As I've mentioned before, it's pretty exciting when data comes in - and it's nowhere close to what the existing models predicted.

In this case, the strip of high-energy stuff seems to be lined up with this galaxy's magnetic field - so there's a really good chance that there's an unexpected interaction between the solar wind and the galactic environment.

The article has a couple of images from IBEX, and a diagram that shows one of the less-unlikely tentative explanations:

(from Adler Planetarium/Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), via, used w/o permission

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