(ORDO NEWS) — Only two man-made objects have gone beyond the solar system: NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft.
Does it look … biological?
Beyond the heliosphere, the bubble of space created by the sun, lies the void between star systems in our galaxy.
For years, astronomers have assumed that the heliosphere is in the shape of a comet with a characteristic long tail that acts as a shield, blocking incoming cosmic rays.
But according to new research, its shape looks much weirder: like a “deflated croissant,” according to NASA . More like chewed chewing gum, or maybe something vaguely biological.
To build the model, the team of astronomers took a close look at data collected by NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). The mission analyzed energetic neutral atoms as cosmic rays travel from the Sun and head towards the heliopause, a theoretical boundary that the solar wind cannot penetrate, about ten billion kilometers from Earth.
The team also reviewed data on charged particle reflections into the inner solar system provided by NASA’s Cassini mission, as well as measurements from NASA’s New Horizons mission. Astronomers found that the further the solar wind moved away from the Sun, the more it interacted with the increasing amount of material from interstellar space.
With all of this data, the team began work on creating a 3D model of the heliosphere, as detailed in an article published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The result looks much more distinctive than the elegant comet-like shape of conventional models. From the center of this “croissant” two jets are emitted by the solar magnetic field. The overall shape is much smaller, rounder and narrower than the conventional model.
Knowing the shape of the heliosphere can be helpful in figuring out whether other stellar systems could also be screened by a similar bubble and thus contain life.
Astronomers are hoping that NASA’s new mapping and acceleration probe (IMAP) can shed more light on the actual shape of our solar system’s heliosphere. The probe, scheduled to launch in 2024, will try to measure how energetic particles behave and interact with the solar wind.
Sources: Photo: An updated model suggests that the shape of the bubble of the Sun’s influence, the heliosphere (highlighted in yellow), may be in the shape of a deflated croissant, rather than the shape of a comet with a long tail suggested by other studies.
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