NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) Spacecraft, a probe orbiting Earth from a distance of about 200,000 miles, recently observed samples of “alien” particles from beyond our solar system. These particles (which include hydrogen, oxygen, and neon) hint at what exists in the interstellar medium – the space between stars – outside of our solar system’s boundaries.
This is the first time a spacecraft has directly observed such particles, which made their way towards Earth from the solar wind that surrounds our section of the galaxy. Wesleyan’s Assistant Professor Seth Redfield of the Astronomy department is involved with IBEX, and was recently quoted in this National Geographic article about IBEX’s most recent feat:
“It’s so exciting to know where our sun is in relation to local clouds. It really puts our sun in context for the first time…our location within our local interstellar cloud is important because the heliosphere structure changes depending on where it is inside a cloud or outside, and so it has consequences for how well it shields us from those deadly cosmic rays.”
IBEX’s job is to map the heliosphere, which is the boundary of our solar system within the Milky Way Galaxy. Read more about IBEX here.
And while we’re on the subject of stars and space and stuff, check out NASA’s astronomy picture of the day. Scroll on for video of Professor Redfield and the rest of the IBEX team discussing the findings at a press briefing.