Washington, Aug 17 (ANI): NASA's Interstellar Boundary ExplorerIBEX) spacecraft has surpassed its mission objectives with images that reveal the interactions between our home in the galaxy and interstellar space to be surprisingly structured and intense.
IBEX provides global imaging of the interstellar boundary much like a weather satellite provides data about global and regional weather patterns on Earth.
Using the most sensitive neutral atom detectors ever flown in space, IBEX unveiled a striking, narrow ribbon of particles two to three times more intense than anything else in the sky.
Building on those first images of the interstellar boundary, the spacecraft has also directly collected hydrogen and oxygen from the interstellar medium for the first time.
It made the first observations of very fast hydrogen atoms coming from the Moon, following decades of speculation and searching for their existence.
Hydrogen from the Sun's million mile per hour solar wind becomes embedded in the Moon's surface, so IBEX's measurements of the fraction of hydrogen atoms that bounce off the surface sheds critical light on the "recycling" processes undertaken by particles throughout the solar system and beyond.
IBEX has also enabled the first direct observations of Earth's magnetosphere from the outside. It showed the pileup of the solar wind in front of the magnetopause, the boundary between the Earth's magnetosphere and interplanetary space, giving important new details about the processes that protect Earth's atmosphere.
"The fun part is when the science community is faced with new observations and is forced to debate new theories and ideas," said Dr. David J. McComas, IBEX principal investigator and an assistant vice president at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
"It will take a while before the community comes to a consensus about what the IBEX data really mean, yet we've already learned much, much more about our place in the solar system," he added. (ANI)