NASA IBEX reveals composition of space matter from outside our solar system

Rue Liu - Jan 31, 2012, 5:14pm CST
NASA IBEX reveals composition of space matter from outside our solar system

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft has been studying what lies outside our solar system and today researchers revealed that this space matter is quite different from what lies within. This interstellar material is considered to be what stars, planets, and people are made from and hence the importance to understand its composition.

IBEX has observed four separate types of interstellar atoms—hydrogen, oxygen, neon, and helium—which fill the space between stars. They blow across the galaxy as interstellar wind of flowing charged and neutral particles. Researchers discovered that this interstellar wind has much less oxygen atoms relative to neon atoms. The ratio is 74 oxygen atoms to every 20 neon atoms, whereas that ratio is 111 oxygen atoms to 20 neon atoms inside our solar system.

This could mean that our solar system developed in a part of the galaxy that was much more oxygen-rich than where it currently resides or that a lot of oxygen is trapped in interstellar dust grains and unable to move freely through space. Understanding this composition will help scientists understand how our solar system evolved. It’s believed that the big bang initially created hydrogen and helium, while supernova explosions spread heavier elements such as oxygen and neon.

The IBEX orbits at about 200,000 miles above Earth to study the edge of the solar system and to understand the boundary region called the heliosphere. The heliosphere protects our solar system and prevents dangerous cosmic radiation from entering.

[via MMD]

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