Astronomers confirm, after a first look, that our solar system has a tail or a helliotail. This discovery was made using NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a small spacecraft no larger than your coffee table. Researchers say that the helliotail is inflated by the solar winds created by the Sun. The shape of the tail is intriguing and not what you expect at first. Astronomers note that it looks like a four-leaf clover and the reason for this is because the fast solar winds shoot out near the Sun’s poles and the slower winds flow from near the Sun’s equator. The finding is based on the first three years of IBEX measurements of energetic neutral atoms.
Scientists have always presumed that the solar system had a tail but this is the first time they were able to see actual data that indicated this tail was real. They are also keeping a close watch on how the tail acts during the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. One interesting observation from IBEX came early on when it detected energetic neutral atoms flowing toward the Sun in an unexpected pattern. It was highlighted in a mysterious ribbon on the edge of the solar system that astronomers now think is a reflection of a solar wind, shot back toward the sun by a strong galactic magnetic field.
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