Voyager discovers magnetic bubbles at solar system edge

Date:

Share post:

Observations from NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, humanity’s farthest deep space sentinels, suggest the edge of our solar system may not be smooth, but filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles. 

Artist’s rendering of Voyager 2 in the outer regions of the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble around the solar system generated by the solar wind [Credit: NASA]

While using a new computer model to analyze Voyager data, scientists found the sun’s distant magnetic field is made up of bubbles approximately 100 million miles wide. The bubbles are created when magnetic field lines reorganize. The new model suggests the field lines are broken up into self-contained structures disconnected from the solar magnetic field. The findings are described in the June 9 edition of the Astrophysical Journal. 

Like Earth, our sun has a magnetic field with a north pole and a south pole. The field lines are stretched outward by the solar wind or a stream of charged particles emanating from the star that interacts with material expelled from others in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy. 

The Voyager spacecraft, more than nine billion miles away from Earth, are traveling in a boundary region. In that area, the solar wind and magnetic field are affected by material expelled from other stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy. 

“The sun’s magnetic field extends all the way to the edge of the solar system,” said astronomer Merav Opher of Boston University. “Because the sun spins, its magnetic field becomes twisted and wrinkled, a bit like a ballerina’s skirt. Far, far away from the sun, where the Voyagers are, the folds of the skirt bunch up.” 

Understanding the structure of the sun’s magnetic field will allow scientists to explain how galactic cosmic rays enter our solar system and help define how the star interacts with the rest of the galaxy. 

So far, much of the evidence for the existence of the bubbles originates from an instrument aboard the spacecraft that measures energetic particles. Investigators are studying more information and hoping to find signatures of the bubbles in the Voyager magnetic field data. 

“We are still trying to wrap our minds around the implications of the findings,” said University of Maryland physicist Jim Drake, one of Opher’s colleagues. 

Launched in 1977, the Voyager twin spacecraft have been on a 33-year journey. They are en route to reach the edge of interstellar space. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., built the spacecraft and continues to operate them. The Voyager missions are a part of the Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.  

Source: New Kerala [June 10, 2011]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Asteroid ‘time capsules’ may help explain how life started on Earth

In popular culture, asteroids play the role of apocalyptic threat, get blamed for wiping out the dinosaurs --...

Seeing Ingenuity Mars helicopter fly in 3D

When NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took to the Martian skies on its third flight on April 25, the...

Taking a drive to Venus? Physicist does the math

In November of 2005, the satellite Venus Express at a speed of about 18,000 miles per hour made...

Cosmic fountain offers clues to how galaxies evolve

Galaxy evolution can be chaotic and messy, but it seems that streams of cold gas spraying out from...

Steep slopes on Mars reveal structure of buried ice on Red Planet

Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have found eight sites where thick deposits of ice beneath Mars'...

Model challenges traditional beliefs about habitability of Mars

A team led by scientists at Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which Caltech manages for NASA,...

Stars regularly ripped apart by black holes in colliding galaxies

Astronomers based at the University of Sheffield have found evidence that stars are ripped apart by supermassive black...

Hubble views a galaxy with an active centre

This swirling mass of celestial gas, dust and stars is a moderately luminous spiral galaxy named ESO 021-G004,...