NASA Podcasts

IBEX: A Global Imager Of Our Solar System’s Boundaries
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Eric Christian, IBEX Program Scientist / NASA GSFC: IBEX is a NASA mission that will for the first time take a picture of the edge of our solar system; an area way out beyond the orbits of the planets, way out beyond Pluto, where the solar system interacts with the gas of the galaxy; with the interstellar space itself.

Nathan Schwadron, IBEX Science Operations Lead / Boston University: The Interstellar Boundary Explorer has two cameras. These cameras image the global structure of the boundaries that surround our solar system. They image these boundaries not with light but with particles themselves.

They’ve created a whole new way to image these structures.

Eric Christian, IBEX Program Scientist / NASA GSFC: Energetic neutral atoms start their life as charged particles; as very fast moving charged particles. They get actually accelerated to a very high speed because they have an electric charge; they are missing one or more electrons.

As they are coming into the solar system, in this interaction between solar wind and interstellar gas, they can from another particle grab an electron, and become neutral.

At that point they are not affected by magnetic fields, they move in a straight line at high speeds towards whichever direction they happen to be going at the time they neutralize. Some of those will be heading at the Earth and those are the ones that IBEX will be measuring.

Nathan Schwadron, IBEX Science Operations Lead / Boston University: IBEX is the first mission to actually understand the whole heliosphere.

Dave McComas, IBEX Principal Investigator / Southwest Research Institute: The Voyager spacecraft, launched in the 1970s, have finally reached the first of the boundaries of the heliosphere and they are taking wonderful and detailed measurements at two points at these boundaries. Instead what IBEX is going to do, is to go into an Earth orbit; a high altitude Earth orbit and look out at the boundary not just in one or two directions but in all directions in space.

By measuring particles coming in from those very distant regions, we’ll be able to make an image of the interaction all around us.

Eric Christian, IBEX Program Scientist / NASA GSFC: The IBEX map is going to be more important than the two points that we get from Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, because we only have two points but this is enormous; this is a structure that’s billions of miles. So just measuring in two points is like just having two buoys in the ocean and trying to figure out all the ocean currents from those two buoys.

We have our two buoys; Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, and then with a satellite looking out instead of down, we get a map of the entire region with IBEX.

Nathan Schwadron, IBEX Science Operations Lead / Boston University: How does the Interstellar Boundary Explorer actually get to this very high altitude orbit, all the way up to the Moon.

The answer is that we use a Pegasus rocket, which is dropped from the belly of an airplane.

The Pegasus rocket is actually going to get us into low Earth orbit. In order to get to very very high altitude, we incorporate with the Pegasus rocket another rocket motor.

The launch of that gets us into a high orbit and then we use additional propulsion on top of that to get us to ultimately our final orbit, which is almost to the Moon.

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