Feeds

It's space, Jim (but not as we know it)

Voyager 1's intrepid mission into the heliosheath

Intelligent flash storage arrays

As Voyager 1 spacecraft speeds through the outermost boundary of our solar system it is tearing clods out of our understanding of the universe, say mission scientists.

Researchers at the University of Maryland's Institute for Physical Science and Technology confirmed in Science last week that Voyager 1 had crossed the termination shock, the unexplored area of space that marks the beginning of the heliosheath, where our sun's solar wind starts to run out of steam as it comes smack against the swirling currents of interstellar space. (The date this occurred had been disputed, but it happened on 16 December 2004, said the Maryland team).

When Voyager got to the shock it discovered that things were not quite as predicted. Scientists expected it to find there the source of the little understood Anomalous cosmic rays (ACRs). Instead, it found that they come from somewhere further out there on its trajectory.

Matthew Hill, an anomalous cosmic ray expert at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (who was at Maryland till this week), said the findings will help us understand other shocks, such as those created by the solar flares that wreck our communications systems and endanger our astronauts.

ACRs were thought to be created in the termination shock after electrically neutral particles had been netted from the interstellar space clouds through which our solar system hurtles on its course around the galaxy. On hitting the solar wind, the interstellar particles pick up a charge, becoming pickup ions. The ions are then accelerated with energy, it was thought, by the shock, to become anomalous cosmic rays.

ACRs are, as their name would suggest, a bit weird. They are weaker than cosmic and galactic rays, and tend to get buffeted around like clouds of manic dandelion spores on the solar wind. They exist in high densities at the edge of the solar system and spread farther apart the closer they get to the sun. They pass through the solar system without causing any bother beyond a headache for puzzled astrophysicists.

It appears they are now causing a little more turmoil than their low charges would warrant. Hill said 25 years of research on the termination shock and ACRs would now have to be revised.

"We'd now like to find out where these particles are coming from. It's either in the heliosheath or beyond," he said. "We don't know where they are coming from...But they are probably still created in the heliosphere because with their energy it would be difficult for them to come from too far away."

Next up on Voyager 1's intrepid mission into the heliosheath, in addition to discovering the source of anomalous cosmic rays, will be a greater understanding of what happens when our solar wind goes phut phut against the pressures of interstellar space - and there are probably some more theories to be debunked as well. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
The hidden costs of self-signed SSL certificates
Exploring the true TCO for self-signed SSL certificates, including a side-by-side comparison of a self-signed architecture versus working with a third-party SSL vendor.