London, October 18 : A NASA satellite, scheduled to be launched on October 19, will study the outermost reaches of our solar system in unprecedented detail.
According to a report in New Scientist, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, satellite is scheduled to be launched from a site at the Kwajalein Atoll in the south Pacific on October 19.
It will operate for two years in high-Earth orbit.
The solar wind, a stream of charged particles from the Sun, forms a huge protective bubble around the solar system called the heliosphere. At the edge of this bubble, a shock wave forms where the solar wind collides with the gas and dust in interstellar space.
IBEX is designed to detect atoms that are heated and thrown off from this boundary, which shields the solar system from dangerous charged particles called cosmic rays that come from elsewhere in the Milky Way.
"These boundaries really protect us from the fairly harsh galactic environment," said Nathan Schwadron, IBEX's head of science operations.
"Every six months, we will make global sky maps of where these atoms come from and how fast they are traveling," said team member Herb Funsten of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"From this information, we will be able to discover what the edge of our bubble looks like and learn about the properties of the interstellar cloud that lies beyond the bubble," he added.
NASA's two unmanned Voyager probes were the first to begin to explore this region, which begins about three times farther from the Sun than the orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto.
Voyager 1 passed the inner boundary in 2004 and Voyager 2 crossed over last year.
"The heliosphere's boundary region is enormous, and the Voyager crossings of the termination shock, while historic, only sampled two tiny areas 10 billion miles (16 billion km) apart," said NASA scientist Eric Christian.