Summary: This strangely fascinating shape is actually a graphic representation of what our Solar System looks like, or rather the magnetic bubble that surrounds our Solar System. It’s a representation of the heliosphere, a massive bubble carved into space by the Sun’s constant outflow
Original author and publication date: Evan Gough – August 7, 2020
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: It seems the Solar System is alive and perhaps it is only in the early stage of its development. An interesting and very old idea.
From the article:
At first glance, it looks like something from an alien autopsy. A strange organ cut from a xenomorph’s thorax, under the flickering lights of an operating room in a top secret government facility, with venous tendrils dangling down to the floor, dripping viscous slime. (X-Com anyone?)
But no, it’s just our Solar System.
This strangely fascinating shape is actually a graphic representation of what our Solar System looks like, or rather the magnetic bubble that surrounds our Solar System. It’s a representation of the heliosphere, a massive bubble carved into space by the Sun’s constant outflow.
They’re calling it the “deflated croissant” model.
The problem with measuring the heliosphere accurately is that we’re inside it. Its edge is over 16 billion km (10 billion miles) away. It’s only thanks to the pair of Voyager spacecraft that we have any data at all from outside the heliosphere. Voyager 1 left the helisphere behind and entered interstellar space in August 2012, and Voyager 2 did the same in November 2019.
There are missions dedicated to studying the heliosphere, like NASA’s IBEX, or Interstellar Boundary Explorer. There are complex interactions where the heliosphere meets interstellar space, a region called the heliopause. IBEX studies what are called energetic neutral atoms. They’re created when cosmic rays from outside our Solar System meet charged particles from inside our Solar System. Since these energetic neutral atoms are created through interactions with the interstellar medium (ISM), they serve as a kind of proxy for measuring the edge of the heliosphere.
But the data from those interactions is complex. It has to be fed into computer models to come up with any sensible predictions about the nature and shape of the heliosphere. NASA and the NSF have funded an effort to make sense of it, called the SHIELD Drive Science Center, at Boston University.
A study published earlier this year presents some of the new results on the heliosphere. It’s title is “A small and round heliosphere suggested by magnetohydrodynamic modelling of pick-up ions.” The lead author is Merav Opher, professor of astronomy at Boston University. The study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Scientists used to think that the heliosphere was shaped kind of like a comet. As our Solar System moves through space, the outflow from the Sun meets the ISM and creates a bow shock or bow wave on the leading edge, and a heliotail on the trailing edge, reminiscent of a comet’s tail.
“The shape of the heliosphere has been explored in the past six decades,” the authors explain in their paper. “There was a consensus, since the pioneering work of Baranov and Malama, that the heliosphere shape is comet-like.”