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Structures and Spectral Variations of the Outer Heliosphere in IBEX Energetic Neutral Atom Maps

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Science  13 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5955, pp. 964-966
DOI: 10.1126/science.1180927

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What's Happening in the Heliosphere

The influence of the Sun is felt well beyond the orbits of the planets. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun that carves a bubble in interstellar space known as the heliosphere and shrouds the entire solar system. The edge of the heliosphere, the region where the solar wind interacts with interstellar space, is largely unexplored. Voyager 1 and 2 crossed this boundary in 2004 and 2007, respectively, providing detailed but only localized information. In this issue (see the cover), McComas et al. (p. 959, published online 15 October), Fuselier et al. (p. 962, published online 15 October), Funsten et al. (p. 964, published online 15 October), and Möbius et al. (p. 969, published online 15 October) present data taken by NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). Since early 2009, IBEX has been building all-sky maps of the emissions of energetic neutral atoms produced at the boundary between the heliosphere and the interstellar medium. These maps have unexpectedly revealed a narrow band of emission that bisects the two Voyager locations at energies ranging from 0.2 to 6 kiloelectron volts. Emissions from the band are two- to threefold brighter than outside the band, in contrast to current models that predict much smaller variations across the sky. By comparing the IBEX observations with models of the heliosphere, Schwadron et al. (p. 966, published online 15 October) show that to date no model fully explains the observations. The model they have developed suggests that the interstellar magnetic field plays a stronger role than previously thought. In addition to the all-sky maps, IBEX measured the signatures of H, He, and O flowing into the heliosphere from the interstellar medium. In a related report, Krimigis et al. (p. 971, published online 15 October) present an all-sky image of energetic neutral atoms with energies ranging between 6 and 13 kiloelectron volts obtained with the Ion and Neutral Camera onboard the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. It shows that parts of the structure observed by IBEX extend to high energies. These data indicate that the shape of the heliosphere is not consistent with that of a comet aligned in the direction of the Sun's travel through the galaxy as was previously thought.

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