Photos: NASA's IBEX Probes Solar System's Edge

Head-On Crash Spotted Between Solar Wind and Earth's Magnetic Field

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The IBEX spacecraft has found that Energetic Neutral Atoms, or ENAs, are coming from a region just outside Earth's magnetopause where nearly stationary protons from the solar wind interact with the tenuous cloud of hydrogen atoms in Earth's exosphere.

Model of Earth's Magnetic Field Lines

Southwest Research Institute/IBEX Science Team

This image shows the first-ever view of the magnetospheric plasma sheet in profile, as seen by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) from outside the magnetosphere. It shows the densest portions of the plasma sheet, largely following the modeled magnetic structure.

Ribbon at the Edge of the Solar System

Heerikhuisen et al.

NASA's IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft discovered a mysterious giant ribbon at the edge of the solar system. The mystery may have been solved. "We believe the ribbon is a reflection," says Jacob Heerikhuisen, a NASA Heliophysics Guest Investigator from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. "It is where solar wind particles heading out into interstellar space are reflected back into the solar system by a galactic magnetic field."

IBEX Model of the Interstellar Magnetic Fields


A model of the interstellar magnetic fields – which would otherwise be straight -- warping around the outside of our heliosphere, based on data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer. The red arrow shows the direction in which the solar system moves through the galaxy.

Cosmic Ray Intensities Compared With Predictions

Nathan Schwadron/UNH-EOS

Cosmic ray intensities (left) compared with predictions (right) from NASA's IBEX spacecraft. The similarity between these observations and predictions supports the local galactic magnetic field direction determined from IBEX observations made from particles at vastly lower energies than the cosmic ray observations shown here. The blue area represents regions of lower fluxes of cosmic rays. The gray and white lines separate regions of different energies—lower energies above the lines, high energies below.

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