Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

What Is this Weird Particle Ribbon at the Edge of the Solar System?

Published on February 29, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

When it comes to charting the outer regions of the Solar System, astronomers may as well use the colloquial phrase “here there be dragons.” As much as we still have to learn about our direct planetary neighbors, like Mars or Venus, we are even more in the dark about the mysterious expanse beyond Pluto, where hulking undiscovered planets may roam and the Sun’s influence wanes before the boundary to interstellar space.

For instance, one of the strangest phenomena observed in the far reaches of the Solar System is the IBEX ribbon, named after NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite, which discovered it in 2008.

This so-called ribbon is an intense stream of neutral particles that has been called a “roadmap in the sky,” with regards to studying the murky interstellar magnetic field beyond the Sun’s influence.

Think of it like this: solar wind and magnetism create a kind of cosmic harbor, called the heliosphere, that extends about 90 astronomical units (AU) around the Sun (one AU is defined as the distance between the Earth and the Sun). All known planets are moored well inside these protected waters.

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