Home Features Best of 2013 The Best of 2013 // #77: Our Solar System has a tail.

The Best of 2013 // #77: Our Solar System has a tail.

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The Best of 2013 // #77: Our Solar System has a tail.

It was something that was long theorized, but only recently have scientists been able to confirm that our solar system is leaving a trail in it’s wake.  As our solar system travels through the milky way galaxy, it trails charged particles behind it.  Called a Heliotail, the stream of protons and electrons stretches for tens of billions of miles.  In 2012, NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, provided a first-ever look at this tail and it’s surprising shape.

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By looking at the trajectories of atoms aimed at Earth from the heliotail, IBEX was able to map the general shape of the tail.  In a cross-section, it looks almost like a four-leaf clover.  Slower moving particles from the Sun’s equator from one flank to another, and the faster, higher energy particles flow from the top and bottom.  The image also shows how our solar system interacts with our galaxy at large.

“It lets you make images of what could never be seen before.”
– David McComas, IBEX principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute

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