TECH

Mysterious Ribbon Of Energy At The Edge Of The Solar System 'Still Mysterious' Report Scientists

14/02/2014 11:02 GMT | Updated 14/02/2014 11:59 GMT

There is a mysterious "ribbon of energy" near the edge of the Solar System.

But as it turns out? That's really helpful.

The strange band of particles and energy was first spotted by Nasa's IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft in 2009.

Describing the phenomenon at the time, the IBEX team admitted they were emissions "not resembling any of the current theories or models of this never-before-seen region".

heliosphere

Above: an all-sky map made by the IBEX spacecraft, showing the ribbon

It's still not known exactly what the ribbon is, even after five years of study. But luckily, there is other evidence of similar phenomenon in the same place.

They key to understanding it, scientists say, is to try and match up the ribbon to other maps which show clusters of cosmic rays - very high energy and dangerous particles from supernova explosions - colliding with solar winds of particles from the Sun.

By combining ground-based observations with those made in space, scientists have shown that the IBEX ribbon is closely correlated with these clusters of cosmic rays. And, as a result, it appears that the ribbon roughly perpendicular to the "interstellar magnetic field" and can act as a sort of "roadmap" to the space between distant stars. Which is neat.

Unfortunately, it's still a little bit more complex even than that, according to a new report by Space.com. Because the one craft NASA has actually sent out beyond the heliosphere (the area of the sun's influence) has reported that the magnetic field implied by the IBEX ribbon in inter-stellar space is actually moving in totally the wrong direction.

Ah.

heliosphere

Above: A diagram of the sun, the white dot in the center of the circle which represents the inner heliosphere encompassing the entire solar system. A tail of particles flows to the right of the heliosphere. The elongated shape in light blue, containing the inner heliosphere and heliotail, is the outer heliosphere, the region where the sun still has a small amount of influence.

59 Incredible Space Photos

And so this is the problem as it currently stands - trying to figure out why the ribbon doesn't appear to match reality. It could be that the Voyager 1 craft is not actually yet in inter-stellar space. It could be that the IBEX data was wrong, or oddly specific. Or it could be that we just don't understand any of this yet.

"What is really missing here is our understanding of the physics," said study leader Nathan Schwadron, from the University of New Hampshire, to Space.com.

"At that point, you say to yourself what’s wrong? What could possibly be the issue?"