Feeds

NASA's IBEX to sniff interstellar boundary

Looking beyond the termination shock

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, aka IBEX, will on 19 October lift off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands on a mission to probe the interstellar boundary beyond our heliosphere's termination shock1 - a region where "the hot solar wind slams into the cold expanse of space", as NASA nicely puts it.

From an altitude of roughly 200,000 miles (322,00km) at apogee, and beyond interference from the Earth's magnetosphere, IBEX will focus its two single-pixel “cameras” on Energetic Neutral Atoms (ENAs)2 to capture "images of processes taking place at the farthest reaches of the solar system".

Artist's impression of the IBEX spacecraft. Pic: NASA

IBEX principal investigator, David J. McComas, explained: "The interstellar boundary regions are critical because they shield us from the vast majority of dangerous galactic cosmic rays, which otherwise would penetrate into Earth's orbit and make human spaceflight much more dangerous."

Indeed, as we recently reported, the Ulysses spacecraft has indicated "the solar wind's global pressure is the lowest we have seen since the beginning of the space age", leading to "an excellent chance the heliosphere will diminish in size and strength".

Ed Smith, NASA's Ulysses project scientist, said: "If that occurs, more galactic cosmic rays will make it into the inner part of our solar system."

McComas noted that venerable spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have already left the inner solar system and "are making fascinating observations of the local conditions at two points beyond the termination shock that show totally unexpected results and challenge many of our notions about this important region".

However, much remains to be discovered. IBEX will spend the first six months of its nominal two-year mission mapping the entire sky to "reveal the global structure of the heliosheath [see note 1, below] and termination shock for the first time".

IBEX mounted in its Pegasus launch vehicle. Pic: NASA

Before getting down to the task in hand, IBEX will be carried aloft to an altitude of around 130 miles (210km) by a Pegasus rocket (see pic, above) dropped from under an L-1011 aircraft. It'll then fire up its own solid rocket motor to travel out to its final working orbit.

NASA's main IBEX mission page is here, and the agency has a factsheet here (pdf). ®

Notes

1The termination shock is the point in the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed to subsonic speeds (relative to the emitting star) by interaction with the interstellar medium. Beyond it lie the heliosheath, "a vast expanse of turbulent gas and twisting magnetic fields", and the heliopause, where the wind's particles are no longer energetic enough to advance against rival particles from other stars.

2The two cameras (IBEX-Lo IBEX-Hi) measure ENAs with energies of 10 eV to 2 keV and 300 eV to 6 keV, respectively.

Bootnote

NASA explains that IBEX is "23 inches high x 38 inches across (eightsided shape, like a STOP sign)", or "about the size of a bus tire". Come on, chaps, those are not accepted standards.

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.