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IBEX - New Observations of Interstellar Matter - Briefing Materials
January 31, 2012
 

Artist rendition of IBEX spacecraft. › View larger
Artist's concept of IBEX spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Goddard Conceptual Image Lab
NASA will host a Science Update to discuss new analysis from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft of material from outside our solar system and the interstellar boundary region that surrounds our home in space.

The interstellar boundary region shields our solar system from most of the dangerous galactic cosmic radiation that otherwise would enter the solar system from interstellar space.


› Link to Media Advisory
› Link to Press Release
› Link to Feature Story
› Link to Presenter Bios
› Link to Associated Media

 

Speakers/Presenters
 

  • David McComas, IBEX principal investigator and assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX., USA
  • Priscilla Frisch, Senior Scientist, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, IL., USA
  • Eberhard Möbius, Professor, Space Science Center and Department of Physics University of New Hampshire and currently visiting professor at the Space Science and Applications Group Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM., USA
  • Seth Redfield, Assistant Professor, Astronomy Department, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT., USA



Images and Multimedia in Support of IBEX Briefing


Visual 1
Graphic of the outer edge of the heliosphere. › View larger

Our heliosphere is the region of space dominated by the Sun and is inflated, like a bubble, in local interstellar material by the million mile-per-hour solar wind. This bubble keeps out the ionized or charged particles and magnetic fields from the galaxy and so protects us from dangerous Galactic Cosmic Rays. However, neutral atoms can still pass through these boundaries and now IBEX has directly sampled multiple heavy elements from the Local Interstellar Cloud for the first time - the same stuff that stars, planets, and even people are made of.
We found that the Local Interstellar Cloud material is not like the Sun, which leaves us a big puzzle: was the Sun produced somewhere special or is critical life-giving oxygen locked up in interstellar dust and ice? Also, IBEX has caught the interstellar wind that surrounds and compresses our heliosphere and has found that it travels more slowly and in a different direction than previously thought. This new understanding has important implications for the size and shape of the heliosphere and may inform the history and future of the solar system Credit: SwRI
 
Visual 2
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› Download video IBEX Beauty Pass
Animation of the IBEX spacecraft as it orbits the Earth. IBEX was launched in October 2008 as a NASA "Small Explorer." Explorers are NASA's longest running program and Small Explorers are the smallest and least expensive class of full missions done by NASA. IBEX is a Sun-pointed spacecraft that rotates at 4 RPM and measures energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) and interstellar neutrals coming in from heliosphere's boundaries. Credit: NASA/Goddard Conceptual Image Lab
 
Visual 3
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› Download video Neutrals - Hole In One
Animation of the interstellar interaction with our Sun - one of billions of stars that orbits around the galaxy. As we zoom in through the galaxy we can see our heliosphere; then if we travel along with the interstellar material, we can see how only a very rare few are directed along precisely the right path to make the 30 year, 15 billion mile journey and enter IBEX's low energy sensor and be detected. Credit: NASA/Goddard Conceptual Image Lab
 
Visual 4
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› Download video Galaxy
A face-on view of our Milky Way Galaxy begins the animation. The Milky Way Galaxy is organized into spiral arms of giant stars that illuminate interstellar gas and dust. The Sun is in a finger called the Orion Spur. A zoom to the cluster of tenuous interstellar clouds close to the Sun reveals the cloud motions. The final zoom reveals that the Sun will soon emerge from the Local Cloud that now surrounds the Sun. Credit: NASA/Adler/U. Chicago/Wesleyan/JPL-Caltech
 
Visual 5
The Orion nebula is a stellar nursery. › View larger

The Orion nebula is a stellar nursery. Giant interstellar clouds cradle massive young stars that are only a few hundred thousands years old. The brilliant whitish core is illuminated by the young Trapezium stars. Remnants of the star-forming dust cocoon are seen as dark lanes against a bright adjacent nebula. Towards the right of the region, interstellar gas and dust have been blown into giant arcs and bubbles by strong stellar winds. Giant bubbles of interstellar gas, formed from stellar winds and supernovae, are found throughout space, including close to the Sun. Credit: NASA/Hubble
 
Visual 6
About thirty elements in the periodic chart have been detected in the interstellar medium. › View larger

Located in the constellation of Taurus, the Crab nebula is the remnant of a supernova formed from the explosion of a massive star a thousand years ago in 1054. Most elements on Earth are produced by supernova explosions. About thirty elements in the periodic chart have been detected in the interstellar medium. Supernova such as the Crab have produced the interstellar oxygen and neon atoms that are observed by IBEX. Credit: NASA/ESA
 
Visual 7
Area in the sky with constellations where the interstellar winds flow in. › View larger

If we had the privilege to look up at the sky far away from the Sun using Giordi LaForge's visor we would see the interstellar wind "beckoning" at us as a bright spotlight from the direction of Scorpio. Shown are Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Libra, as seen, for example, when looking south at midnight in June, with the interstellar wind above Scorpio. Credit: NASA/Goddard
 
Visual 8
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› Download video Constellations and Data
Animation, zooming out from Scorpio to a full sky view of the stars. It blends over to a color-coded full sky neutral atom map, as obtained with IBEX at energies where the interstellar wind is the brightest feature in the maps. In Earth's orbit, where IBEX makes its observations, the maximum flow (in red) is seen to arrive from Libra instead of Scorpio because the interstellar wind is forced to curve around the Sun by gravity. Credit: NASA/Goddard/UNH
 
Visual 9
Full sky map from IBEX with inflow area for interstellar wind identified. › View larger

Full sky neutral atom map, as obtained with IBEX at energies where the interstellar wind is the brightest feature in the maps. In Earth's orbit, where IBEX makes its observations, the maximum flow (in red) is seen to arrive from Libra instead of Scorpio because the interstellar wind is forced to curve around the Sun by gravity. Credit: NASA/Goddard/UNH
Visual 10
Graphic of our heliosphere with interstellar wind flows as affected by gravity. › View larger

Pictorial view of the Earth's orbit and the interstellar flow, as seen from far above the North Pole. During its journey through the Sun's gravitation, the wind is bent like a soccer ball that is pulled back to Earth in a curve. Slower wind (dark blue) is bent stronger than faster wind. Thus, IBEX observes slower wind earlier on Earth's orbit than faster wind, during the month of February when the Earth moves into the flow. To determine the flow speed, the IBEX team has taken advantage of this "speedometer" that Mother Nature provides to us for free. Credit: NASA/Goddard/UNH
 
Visual 11
New interstellar speed and flow direction in longitude in comparison with the previous result. › View larger

New interstellar speed and flow direction in longitude (red, Bzowski et al., ApJ Suppl., 2012; yellow, Möbius et al., APJ Suppl., 2012) in comparison with the previous result (blue, Witte, Astron. Astrophys., 2004) and astronomical observations of the nearby interstellar clouds (grey, Redfield & Linsky, ApJ, 2008). While the previous interstellar flow result seemed to fall between the two nearest clouds, the new result puts the solar system right into the local cloud. Credit: NASA/Goddard/UNH
 
Visual 12
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› Download video Composition - › View composition still
Animated view showing the neon to oxygen ratio in the neutral gas of the local cloud, as obtained with IBEX, in comparison with the ratio for the Sun and the Milky Way galaxy. There is much less oxygen in the gas of the local cloud, which presents an interesting puzzle to astronomers. Is a substantial portion of the essential ingredient for life (oxygen) locked up in interstellar dust, or does this tell us how different the conditions our immediate neighborhood are than at the birthplace of the Sun? Credit: NASA/Goddard
 
Visual 13
IBEX measurements of the velocity of interstellar atoms definitively pinpoint the location of the Sun relative to the gas and dust in our immediate vicinity. › View larger

The new IBEX measurements of the velocity of interstellar atoms definitively pinpoint the location of the Sun relative to the gas and dust in our immediate vicinity. On the left, the distribution of gas and dust around the Sun is shown, and the direction of motion of the various gas clouds are depicted by arrows. The nearest clouds are the Local Cloud and the G Cloud. On the right, the new results from IBEX solved a discrepancy and are a perfect match with the Local Cloud measurements made by looking at nearby stars. Now we know that the Sun is surrounded by the Local Cloud, while being very close to its edge. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Adler/U. Chicago/Wesleyan
 
Visual 14
The solar journey through space is carrying us through a cluster of very low density density interstellar clouds. › View larger

The solar journey through space is carrying us through a cluster of very low density interstellar clouds. Right now the Sun is inside of a cloud that is so tenuous that the interstellar gas detected by IBEX is as sparse as a handful of air stretched over a column that is hundreds of light years long. These clouds are identified by their motions. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Adler/U. Chicago/Wesleyan
 
Visual 15
Other astrospheres › View larger

The conditions necessary to make the heliosphere, namely the balance of an outward pushing stellar wind and the inward compression of surrounding interstellar gas is so common, that perhaps most stars have analogous structures, called astrospheres. Photographs of three such astrospheres are shown, as taken by various telescopes. Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/Goddard/SwRI
 
Visual 16
Map of our stellar region with known astrospheres and stars with planets marked. › View larger

Due to the protective shielding of dangerous Galactic Cosmic Rays provided by a heliosphere or astrosphere, these structures are important for the planets that orbit the respective stars. Only over the last 15 years, we have been able to detect the first astrospheres and planets around other stars (exoplanets). Here we show a zoom into the most immediate environment around the Sun, our cosmic neighborhood. The locations of known astrospheres and exoplanets are indicated, while we anticipate that many more are present and just awaiting discovery. The nearest star, alpha Centauri has an astrosphere, and we know of at least two cases where we have detected both an astrosphere and exoplanets. These systems are truly analogous to our system in which the heliosphere shields a diverse planetary system. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Adler/U. Chicago/Wesleyan
 
Visual 17
Collage of images shown previously in the press conference. › View larger

Collage of images shown previously in the press conference. Credit: NASA/Hubble/SwRI/Goddard Conceptual Image Lab
 




 

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