The solar wind bubble that protects the Earth has been mapped for the first time


In 2009, I started NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, also known as IBEX, astronomers have discovered a strange ribbon-like structure that danced between our solar system and the rest of interstellar space.

The discovery of the IBEX Ribbon, which is invisible to both telescopes and the human eye, was one of the first forays of scientists to understand more about our heliosphere – a bubble-like shield composed of solar winds.

A new study published in the Astrophysical Journal map across the border of this shield, and the data collected can be used to usher in a new era of heliophysics exploration.

“Most of the tools that detect particles in space detect charged particles,” he says Daniel Reisenfeld, a senior scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and lead author of the study. But IBEX is unique.

It detects energy neutral atoms, or ENA-ions that originally come from the sun but collide with interstellar electrons, neutralizing them. These atoms can be found anywhere in space, and observing ENA flows over time can be a powerful imaging tool.

So what exactly was that mysterious ribbon? Then, scientists determined that what they were seeing was a giant ENA band that illuminated the night sky.


Using IBEX data collected on ENA as it traced only an 11-year solar cycle, the time between changes in the sun’s magnetic field, the researchers built a three-dimensional map of the entire heliosphere, which Reisenfeld says protects Earth and other planets from harmful radiation. .

“Our Earth is bombarded by cosmic rays, by galactic cosmic rays all the time,” he says. These rays can subtly affect aircraft flying near poles, often on trips between Europe or Asia and the United States.

Scientists say that to study the astrospheres of the other planet, which are so-called heliospheres when they surround other stars, we must first understand our own.

“Many of the physical models that are being developed now are based on the findings of the IBEX mission,” he says. Nikolai Pogorelov, a professor of space sciences at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. “It’s not just experimental,” he says, adding that it will be used for [a] true purpose “.

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