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.
NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer
(IBEX) discovered an enigmatic "ribbon" of energetic particles at the edge of our Solar System and a new study says it may be just a glimpse into how vast the influence of the galactic magnetic field really is.
The galactic magnetic field around our solar system's giant bubble, known as the heliosphere, determines the orientation of the ribbon and the placement of energetic particles measured within it, according to the new study.
The new findings offer up an explanation for the mystery on why we measure more incoming high-energy cosmic rays on one side of the sun than on the other.
"It's a fascinating time," Nathan Schwadron
, of the University of New Hampshire in Durham, and first author on the paper published in Science Express
, said in a statement. "Fifty years ago, we were making the first measurements of the solar wind and understanding the nature of what was just beyond near-Earth space. Now, a whole new realm of science is opening up as we try to understand the physics all the way outside the heliosphere."
IBEX detects energetic neutral atoms that form from interactions at the heliosphere's boundaries. Charged particles must travel along the magnetic field lines that are found throughout space, and sometimes a charged particle collides with a neutral atom at the outskirts of the heliosphere and captures an electron from a neutral atom. Once this happens, the charged particle becomes electrically neutral and heads in a straight line, which can be caught by IBEX's detectors.