Clover-shaped clumps of charged particles extend billions of kilometers
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
The solar system drags along a lengthy, twisted tail 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.