Scientists reveal cosmic roadmap to galactic magnetic field

February 13, 2014
Cosmic ray intensities (left) compared with predictions (right) from IBEX. The similarity between these observations and predictions—as evidenced by the similar color regions—supports the local galactic magnetic field direction determined from IBEX observations made from particles at vastly lower energies than the cosmic ray observations shown here. The blue area represents regions of lower fluxes of cosmic rays. The gray and white lines separate regions of different energies—lower energies above the lines, high energies below. Credit: Nathan Schwadron, UNH-EOS.

Scientists on NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission, including a team leader from the University of New Hampshire, report that recent, independent measurements have validated one of the mission's signature findings—a mysterious "ribbon" of energy and particles at the edge of our solar system that appears to be a directional "roadmap in the sky" of the local interstellar magnetic field.

Unknown until now, the direction of the galactic magnetic field may be a missing key to understanding how the heliosphere—the gigantic bubble that surrounds our solar system—is shaped by the interstellar magnetic field and how it thereby helps shield us from dangerous incoming . "Using measurements of ultra-high energy cosmic rays on a global scale, we now have a completely different means of verifying that the field directions we derived from IBEX are consistent," says Nathan Schwadron, lead scientist for the IBEX Science Operations Center at the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. Schwadron and IBEX colleagues published their findings online today in Science Express.

Establishing a consistent local interstellar magnetic field direction using IBEX low-energy neutral atoms and galactic cosmic rays at ten orders of magnitude higher energy levels has wide-ranging implications for the structure of our heliosphere and is an important measurement to be making in tandem with the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is in the process of passing beyond our heliosphere.

"The cosmic ray data we used represent some of the highest energy radiation we can observe and are at the opposite end of the energy range compared to IBEX's measurements," says Schwadron. "That it's revealing a consistent picture of our neighborhood in the galaxy with what IBEX has revealed gives us vastly more confidence that what we're learning is correct."

How magnetic fields of galaxies order and direct galactic is a crucial component to understanding the environment of our galaxy, which in turn influences the environment of our entire solar system and our own environment here on Earth, including how that played into the evolution of life on our planet.

Notes David McComas, principal investigator of the IBEX mission at Southwest Research Institute and coauthor on the Science Express paper, "We are discovering how the interstellar shapes, deforms, and transforms our entire heliosphere."

A model of the interstellar magnetic fields -- which would otherwise be straight -- warping around the outside of our heliosphere, based on data from NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer. The red arrow shows the direction in which the solar system moves through the galaxy. Credit: NASA/IBEX/UNH

To date, the only other direct information gathered from the heart of this complex boundary region is from NASA's Voyager satellites. Voyager 1 entered the heliospheric boundary region in 2004, passing beyond what's known as the termination shock where the solar wind abruptly slows. Voyager 1 is believed to have crossed into interstellar space in 2012.

Interestingly, when scientists compared the IBEX and cosmic ray data with Voyager 1's measurements, the Voyager 1 data provide a different direction for the magnetic fields just outside our heliosphere.

That's a puzzle but it doesn't necessarily mean one set of data is wrong and one is right. Voyager 1 is taking measurements directly, gathering data at a specific time and place, while IBEX gathers information averaged over great distances—so there is room for discrepancy. Indeed, the very discrepancy can be used as a clue: understand why there's a difference between the two measurements and gain new insight.

"It's a fascinating time," says Schwadron. "Fifty years ago, we were making the first measurements of the solar wind and understanding the nature of what was just beyond near-Earth space. Now, a whole new realm of science is opening up as we try to understand the physics all the way outside the heliosphere."

Eberhard Möbius, UNH principal scientist for the IBEX-Lo instrument on board, is a coauthor on the Science Express paper along with colleagues from institutions around the country.

IBEX is a NASA Heliophysics Small Explorer mission. The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, leads IBEX with teams of national and international partners. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Explorers Program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Explore further: Interstellar winds buffeting our solar system have shifted direction

More information: "Global Anisotropies in TeV Cosmic Rays Related to the Sun's Local Galactic Environment from IBEX," by N.A. Schwadron et al. Science, 2014.

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The Shootist
5 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2014
What? Nobody yacking about "the electric universe"?
Feb 13, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 13, 2014
What? Nobody yacking about "the electric universe"?

Don't worry, Cantdrive will show up soon and spout off about the EU. We will get more than we want on the EU soon enough. :-)
vlaaing peerd
5 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2014
The really really dense cheesehole theory (rrDCT) of the universe postulates that the galactic magnetic field must exist and the field direction shapes similar to the coagulation of milk proteins. Einstein (might I add he thought up his theory in Switzerland, now home of the swiss/french anti cheese conspiracy (CERN), conincidence? I THINK NOT!) never predicted this but the research does exactly match my theory.

Maybe this new idea could help solve the problem:
not rated yet Feb 14, 2014
The evidence for an anisotropic universal magnetic field subsuming local galactic nested sequences coheres with the Nodland Ralston effect. This research will gain in importance as humanity enters into the era of conquering "outer space."
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2014
Nobody else will mention it, I guess I will.
One step closer to bringing in some EU theories to make sense of Cosmology.
Oh wait....EU has been proven wrong by applying broken out dated theories from last century. EU couldn't be accurate. LOL!

Ok....I did it.
Now, let the close minded nerds begin the bashing!
1, 2 & GO!!!
no fate
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2014
Nobody else will mention it, I guess I will.
One step closer to bringing in some EU theories to make sense of Cosmology.
Oh wait....EU has been proven wrong by applying broken out dated theories from last century. EU couldn't be accurate. LOL!

Ok....I did it.
Now, let the close minded nerds begin the bashing!
1, 2 & GO!!!

Actually, the EU theory has been proven wrong due to plasma physics. It is disappointing when your theory that electrical circuits are behind all that we see fails when you have use magnetic fields to actually make the plasma perform. It is equally disappointing watching "closed minded nerds" attempt to use physics to describe a structure that simply don't apply.

But it is entertaining as hell watching both camps argue over who is correct and why.
5 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2014
coheres with the Nodland Ralston effect.

Don't confuse galactic magnetic fields (inside the milky way) with intergalactic magnetic fields (outside the milky way).

You and the rest of the bunch discussing cosmology seem to be a little confused with the scope of the above observations. This is small scale stuff. Trying to relate the above work to Universal cosmology is like measuring the flatness of your living room floor and claiming that it is evidence for whether the Universe is flat or not.

In other words, you're all (the cosmology nuts) way off topic, and obviously didn't read the article or didn't understand it.

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