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What do the first maps from IBEX show?

The maps that have been created show the numbers of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs)Atoms with no charge that move very quickly. These atoms have equal numbers of positively-charged protons and negatively-charged electrons. ENAs form when charged particles from the solar wind travel outward and encounter atoms from the interstellar medium. Because the ENAs are neutral, they do not react to any magnetic fields. Some of these ENAs travel toward the inner solar system and are captured by the IBEX spacecraft. detected at different energy levels coming from all areas of the sky. The scientists assign colors to indicate the numbers of ENAs detected, and the locations on the map show the direction from which those particles came. Red indicates the highest number of ENAs measured by the spacecraft. Yellow and green indicate lower numbers of ENAs, and blue and purple show the lowest number of ENAs. The maps appear oval for the same reason that two-dimensional maps of spherical Earth look oval.

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Five maps of the Solar System boundary were released on October 15, 2009. These are the very first maps of the boundary that have ever been created. Over most of the sky, IBEX detected approximately the amount of ENAs that the scientists thought they would see. However, they also found something completely unexpected. There is an arc-shaped region in the sky that is creating a large amount of ENAs, showing up as a bright, narrow ribbon on the maps. Currently, scientists do not know for sure what is causing more ENAs to be coming from the parts of the sky where the ribbon is seen, but they think it might have something to do with the magnetic fieldA field of force that is generated by electric currents. The Sun's average large-scale magnetic field, like that of the Earth, exhibits a north and a south pole linked by lines of magnetic force. in our area of the galaxy. More data from IBEX—and more maps—will be needed to help figure out this scientific mystery.

NASA Principal Investigator: Dave McComas
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Last Updated: 22 NOVEMBER 2010
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