Printer Friendly

The solar system has a tail.

The solar system drags along a lengthy, twisted tail of charged particles as it moves through the galaxy, researchers announced July 10 in a press conference and in the Astrophysical Journal.

Scientists had always presumed that a tail existed, said Eric Christian, an astronomer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But this is the first time we have data that tells us about the tail."

The discovery comes from data gathered by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, a satellite launched in 2008. It charts the trajectories of speedy atoms that originate in the outskirts of the solar system before getting an inward kick from collisions with charged particles from the sun. The distribution of those atoms helps scientists map the boundaries of the heliosphere, the bubble that contains the planets and other material in the solar system and is inflated by particles continually jetting out from the sun (illustrated above).

A cross section of the tail resembles a four-leaf clover, with two clumps of slow-moving solar particles and two of high-speed particles. The data also reveal that the clover shape is flattened and twisted by galactic magnetic fields acting on the sun as it whizzes through the Milky Way at around 84,000 kilometers per hour--the same magnetic fields that cause a giant ribbon of charged particles to wrap around the edge of the heliosphere (SN: 11/21/09, p. 15).

The IBEX team could not determine the exact length of the tail. said principal investigator David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, but estimated it at 150 billion kilometers, or 1,000 times the distance between Earth and the sun. The team plans to see whether the tail's shape changes as the sun's activity wanes.

----------

Please note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

COPYRIGHT 2013 Society for Science and the Public
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:IN THE NEWS
Author:Grant, Andrew
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 24, 2013
Words:304
Previous Article:Central black hole reels in gas cloud: telescopes watch galaxy's maw tear up approaching object.
Next Article:Sound waves let objects levitate: technique transports cells, water droplets and coffee.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters