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Interstellar winds buffeting our solar system have shifted direction

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Posted September 6, 2013
Interstellar winds buffeting our solar system have shifted direction

Interstellar winds buffeting our solar system have shifted direction
This image shows the nearest interstellar gas clouds around the solar system, including the Local Interstellar Cloud (LIC) and G Cloud, along with positions of neighboring stars in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. The arrow shows the sun’s motion relative to neighboring stars. Image courtesy of P.C. Frisch, University of Chicago

Scientists, including University of New Hampshire astrophysicists involved in NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission, have discovered that the particles streaming into the solar system from interstellar space have likely changed direction over the last 40 years.

The finding helps scientists map our location within the Milky Way galaxy and is crucial for understanding our place in the cosmos through the vast sweep of time—where we’ve come from, where we’re currently located, and where we’re going in our journey through the galaxy.

Additionally, scientists now gain deeper insight into the dynamic nature of the interstellar winds, which has major implications on the size, structure, and nature of our sun’s heliosphere—the gigantic bubble that surrounds our solar system and helps shield us from dangerous incoming galactic radiation.

The results, based on data spanning four decades from 11 different spacecraft, including IBEX, were published in the journal Science September 5, 2013.

“It was very surprising to find that changes in the interstellar flow show up on such short time scales because interstellar clouds are astronomically large,” says Eberhard Möbius, UNH principal scientist for the IBEX mission and co-author on theScience paper. Adds Möbius, “However, this finding may teach us about the dynamics at the edges of these clouds—while clouds in the sky may drift along slowly, the edges often are quite fuzzy and dynamic. What we see could be the expression of such behavior.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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