IBEX SPACECRAFT REVEALS NEW OBSERVATIONS OF INTERSTELLAR MATTER
NASA announced in January its Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX)
spacecraft captured the best and most complete glimpse yet of what
lies beyond the solar system -- observations that show our solar
system is different than the space right outside it. The new
measurements give clues about how and where our solar system formed,
the forces that physically shape our solar system, and the history of
other stars in the Milky Way.
The spacecraft observed four separate types of atoms, including
hydrogen, oxygen, neon and helium. These interstellar atoms are the
byproducts of older stars, which spread across the galaxy and fill
the vast space between stars. IBEX determined the distribution of
these elements outside the solar system that are flowing charged and
neutral particles, which blow through the galaxy.
IBEX also measured the interstellar wind traveling at a slower speed
than previously measured by the Ulysses spacecraft, and from a
different direction. The improved measurements from IBEX show a 20
percent difference in how much pressure the interstellar wind exerts
on our heliosphere. Measuring the pressure on our heliosphere from
the material in the galaxy and from the magnetic fields out there
will help determine the size and shape of our solar system as it
travels through the galaxy.