By: April Carson
Scientists have discovered something eerie just in time for Halloween takes place at the edge of our solar system. The heliopause, which is the boundary between the heliosphere (the bubble that holds all solar wind) and interstellar medium (the space between stars), appears to be rippling and creating oblique angles differently than usual.
While the heliopause has always been a dynamic boundary, shaped by the ever-changing solar wind, these new observations are particularly perplexing to scientists.
The heliopause's metamorphosis is not a new discovery; researchers have found that it isn't stationary within the past decade. They discovered this by using data gathered from Voyager 1, Voyager 2—the only two spaceships to leave the heliosphere thus far—as well as NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite. The IBEX studies Energetic Neutral Atoms' (ENAs) emissions, which are created when solar winds interact with the interstellar medium.
This recent change, however, is unprecedented in the amount of time it has taken place over.
The Voyager spacecraft is the only way to directly measure the locations of these boundaries in space. But as Eric Zirnstein, a space physicist at Princeton University, wrote in an email to Vice, they can only do this at one point in time and space. IBEX helps fill in the gaps by providing more data points.
"ENAs can tell us a lot about the structure of the heliosphere and its interaction with the interstellar medium, but they are very diffuse," Zirnstein wrote. "That means that to get a good measurement of them, you need a large telescope like IBEX's."
IBEX is also important because it can measure something that the Voyagers can't: the interstellar medium itself. This is the gas and dust that fills the space between stars. It's extremely thin — just a few hydrogen atoms per cubic centimeter, compared to the 10^19th atoms per cubic meter of our own atmosphere — but it's out there, and it interacts with the heliosphere.
Models predicting how the heliopause changes were created by scientists using data. To simplify, forces between solar winds and the interstellar medium cause a moving boundary.
However, more recent research into the heliopause has discovered data which disputes older findings. In 2014, over a few months IBEX registered ENAs that were getting brighter, which showed asymmetries in the heliopause Vice said. Later on, the team realized that those asymmetries didn't match up with existing models.
"The new data from IBEX completely changes our understanding of the heliopause," said Justin Kasper, a space scientist at the University of Michigan and co-author of the Nature paper. "It's almost like we've discovered a new type of solar wind."
In addition, after analyzing the data from Voyager 1 and Voyager 2's space journey, the scientists discovered that the heliopause dramatically changed in a short time. This helps explains why there was such a big difference between when the two probes entered interstellar space; one did it in 2012 while the other waited until 2018. Though this kind of movement by the heliopause is at odds with what models predicted.
"This is a very dynamic, evolving boundary," said Ed Stone, project scientist for Voyager 1 and 2 at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "It's alive."
The findings suggest that the heliopause is not as symmetrical as scientists once thought, which has implications for how we understand our place in the universe.
In a paper published recently, the researchers called these discrepancies "intriguing and potentially controversial." They plan to continue studying the heliopause, hoping to gain more insight from NASA's Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe. This new satellite can detect ENAs and is scheduled to launch in 2025. Zirnstein told Vice this exciting news. "It could give us a much more detailed view of the heliosphere and how it's interacting with the interstellar medium," he said. "We might be able to get a 3D map of the heliopause."
This would be incredible, as current models of the heliosphere are based on 2D data. With a 3D map, we could learn even more about our place in the universe and how everything around us works.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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