The Sun moves through the local interstellar medium, continuously emitting ionized, supersonic solar wind plasma and carving out a cavity in interstellar space called the heliosphere. The recently launched Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft has completed its first all-sky maps of the interstellar interaction at the edge of the heliosphere by imaging energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) emanating from this region. We found a bright ribbon of ENA emission, unpredicted by prior models or theories, that may be ordered by the local interstellar magnetic field interacting with the heliosphere. This ribbon is superposed on globally distributed flux variations ordered by both the solar wind structure and the direction of motion through the interstellar medium. Our results indicate that the external galactic environment strongly imprints the heliosphere.
Because of its high ionization potential and weak interaction with hydrogen, Neutral Interstellar Helium is almost unaffected at the heliospheric interface with the interstellar medium and freely enters the solar system. This second most abundant species provides some of the best information on the characteristics of the interstellar gas in the Local Interstellar Cloud. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is the second mission to directly detect NISHe. We present a comparison between recent IBEX NISHe observations and simulations carried out using a well-tested quantitative simulation code. Simulation and observation results compare well for times when measured fluxes are dominated by NISHe (and contributions from other species are small). Differences between simulations and observations indicate a previously undetected secondary population of neutral helium, likely produced by interaction of interstellar helium with plasma in the outer heliosheath. Interstellar neutral parameters are statistically different from previous in situ results obtained mostly from the GAS/Ulysses experiment, but they do agree with the local interstellar flow vector obtained from studies of interstellar absorption: the newlyestablished flow direction is ecliptic longitude 79.2 • , latitude −5.1 • , the velocity is ∼ 22.8 kms −1 , and the temperature is 6200 K. These new results imply a markedly lower absolute velocity of the gas and thus significantly lower dynamic pressure on the boundaries of the heliosphere and different orientation of the Hydrogen Deflection Plane compared to prior results from Ulysses. A different orientation of this plane also suggests a new geometry of the interstellar magnetic field and the lower dynamic pressure calls for a compensation by other components of the pressure balance, most likely a higher density of interstellar plasma and strength of interstellar magnetic field.
As the Sun moves through the local interstellar medium, its supersonic, ionized solar wind carves out a cavity called the heliosphere. Recent observations from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft show that the relative motion of the Sun with respect to the interstellar medium is slower and in a somewhat different direction than previously thought. Here, we provide combined consensus values for this velocity vector and show that they have important implications for the global interstellar interaction. In particular, the velocity is almost certainly slower than the fast magnetosonic speed, with no bow shock forming ahead of the heliosphere, as was widely expected in the past.
Simulations of energetic neutral atom (ENA) maps predict flux magnitudes that are, in some cases, similar to those observed by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft, but they miss the ribbon. Our model of the heliosphere indicates that the local interstellar medium (LISM) magnetic field (B(LISM)) is transverse to the line of sight (LOS) along the ribbon, suggesting that the ribbon may carry its imprint. The force-per-unit area on the heliopause from field line draping and the LISM ram pressure is comparable with the ribbon pressure if the LOS approximately 30 to 60 astronomical units and B(LISM) approximately 2.5 microgauss. Although various models have advantages in accounting for some of the observations, no model can explain all the dominant features, which probably requires a substantial change in our understanding of the processes that shape our heliosphere.
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) observes a remarkable feature, the IBEX ribbon, which has energetic neutral atom (ENA) flux over a narrow region ∼20 • wide, a factor of 2-3 higher than the more globally distributed ENA flux. Here, we separate ENA emissions in the ribbon from the distributed flux by applying a transparency mask over the ribbon and regions of high emissions, and then solve for the distributed flux using an interpolation scheme. Our analysis shows that the energy spectrum and spatial distribution of the ribbon are distinct from the surrounding globally distributed flux. The ribbon energy spectrum shows a knee between ∼1 and 4 keV, and the angular distribution is approximately independent of energy. In contrast, the distributed flux does not show a clear knee and more closely conforms to a power law over much of the sky. Consistent with previous analyses, the slope of the power law steepens from the nose to tail, suggesting a weaker termination shock toward the tail as compared to the nose. The knee in the energy spectrum of the ribbon suggests that its source plasma population is generated via a distinct physical process. Both the slope in the energy distribution of the distributed flux and the knee in the energy distribution of the ribbon are ordered by latitude. The heliotail may be identified in maps of globally distributed flux as a broad region of low flux centered ∼44 • W of the interstellar downwind direction, suggesting heliotail deflection by the interstellar magnetic field.
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is a small explorer mission that launched on 19 October 2008 with the sole, focused science objective to discover the global interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium. IBEX is designed to achieve this objective by answering four fundamental science questions: (1) What is the global strength and structure of the termination shock, (2) How are energetic protons accelerated at the termination shock, (3) What are the global properties of the solar wind flow beyond the termination shock and in the heliotail, and (4) How does the interstellar flow interact with the heliosphere beyond the heliopause? The answers to these questions rely on energyresolved images of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs), which originate beyond the termination shock, in the inner heliosheath. To make these exploratory ENA observations IBEX carries two ultra-high sensitivity ENA cameras on a simple spinning spacecraft. IBEX's very high apogee Earth orbit was achieved using a new and significantly enhanced method for launching small satellites; this orbit allows viewing of the outer heliosphere from beyond the Earth's relatively bright magnetospheric ENA emissions. The combination of full-sky imaging and energy spectral measurements of ENAs over the range from ∼10 eV to 6 keV provides the critical information to allow us to achieve our science objective and understand this global interaction for the first time. The IBEX mission was developed to provide the first global views of the Sun's interstellar boundaries, unveiling the physics of the heliosphere's interstellar interaction, providing a deeper understanding of the heliosphere and thereby astrospheres throughout the galaxy, and creating the opportunity to make even greater unanticipated discoveries.
Neutral atom imaging of the interstellar gas flow in the inner heliosphere provides the most detailed information on physical conditions of the surrounding interstellar medium (ISM) and its interaction with the heliosphere. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) measured neutral H, He, O, and Ne for three years. We compare the He and combined O + Ne flow distributions for two interstellar flow passages in 2009 and 2010 with an analytical calculation, which is simplified because the IBEX orientation provides observations at almost exactly the perihelion of the gas trajectories. This method allows separate determination of the key ISM parameters: inflow speed, longitude, and latitude, as well as temperature. A combined optimization, as in complementary approaches, is thus not necessary. Based on the observed peak position and width in longitude and latitude, inflow speed, latitude, and temperature are found as a function of inflow longitude. The latter is then constrained by the variation of the observed flow latitude as a function of observer longitude and by the ratio of the widths of the distribution in longitude and latitude. Identical results are found for 2009 and 2010: an He flow vector somewhat outside previous determinations (λ ISM∞ = 79. • 0 + 3. • 0(−3. • 5), β ISM∞ = −4. • 9 ± 0. • 2, V ISM∞ = 23.5 + 3.0(−2.0) km s −1 , T He = 5000-8200 K), suggesting a larger inflow longitude and lower speed. The O + Ne temperature range, T O + Ne = 5300-9000 K, is found to be close to the upper range for He and consistent with an isothermal medium for all species within current uncertainties.
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