Nasa discovers solar system 'bubbles'

2011-06-10 08:31

Washington - A pair of Nasa probes wandering in deep space discovered that the outer edge of the solar system contains curious magnetic bubbles and is not smooth as previously thought, astronomers said on Thursday.

The Nasa Voyager twin spacecraft, which launched in 1977, are currently exploring the furthest outlays of the heliosphere, where solar wind is slowed and warped by pressure from other forces in the galaxy, the US space agency said.

"Because the sun spins, its magnetic field becomes twisted and wrinkled, a bit like a ballerina's skirt," said astronomer Merav Opher of Boston University.

"Far, far away from the sun, where the Voyagers are, the folds of the skirt bunch up."

The Voyagers are almost 16 billion kilometres from Earth in a little known boundary region where solar wind and magnetic field are influenced by "material expelled from other stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy," Nasa said.


This "turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles" occurs when parts of the Sun's distant magnetic field break up and reorganise under pressure.

The bubbles are giant - about 160 million kilometres wide - meaning the Voyager probes could take multiple weeks to cross a single one of them.

Scientists have previously theorised that the sun's distant magnetic field curved in "relatively graceful arc, eventually folding back to rejoin the sun", Nasa said.

But images of a smooth outer heliosheath have now been discarded as scientists begin to realise that the region is actually bubbly and "frothy".

"The actual bubbles appear to be self-contained and substantially disconnected from the broader solar magnetic field."

The findings were made using a new computer model to analyse data from the Voyager craft, and are published in the June 9 edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

"The magnetic bubbles appear to be our first line of defence against cosmic rays," said Opher. "We haven't figured out yet if this is a good thing or not."

  • ApexPredator - 2011-06-10 08:45

    Beware the dreaded cosmic rays...

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-06-10 11:10

      Those are nothing, it's the cosmic Stingrays that'll get a planet!

  • James - 2011-06-10 08:57

    Voyager Probe 1...This is probe 2...I'm in the bubble man...It's wild...Wait...I can see the cosmic rays on the other...Can it be...Yes...We're safe man...I can see Bill...Bill Shatner!

      PMG - 2011-06-10 09:26

      Hey James - lay off the acid,dude.

      Spoofed - 2011-06-10 12:04

      Hahahaha james =)

  • Voidy - 2011-06-10 09:31

    Amazing that a probe launched in 1977 are still operational

      Mad Hatter - 2011-06-10 10:01

      Thats because it was made in an era of construction designed to last and not 'made in China' , they can make many things but nothing that lasts more than 10 minutes.

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-06-10 11:18

      Thats because the business world found out that you can make a lot less money off of things that last a long time. If something you use often breaks every other year (like a TV for instance) you will by a new one every other year, thus ensuring return business for the manufacturer.

      Ben - 2011-06-10 12:53

      Should still function till 2025.

      FrankLee - 2011-06-10 12:55

      ....Especially if you can charge about $100m every time.....

  • gfsearle - 2011-06-10 09:40

    Is Captain Spock flying the probe?

      James - 2011-06-10 10:06

      Come in Spock. Over...This is Cpt Kirk in Probe 1. Over...We've just gone past Uranus. Over...Oh that's right. I forgot. I'm in an anal probe. Over.

  • Happy-go-lucky - 2011-06-10 11:51

    I dont understand how they are "bubbles". Our Solar system isnt "round", and for an object in space to be round, there has to be equal points of attraction or push from gravity....surely?

      Richard Townley-Johnson - 2011-06-10 12:26

      A bubble doesn't have to be round?

      Happy-go-lucky - 2011-06-10 12:43

      true, but gravity inevitably forces circular shapes (in space)?

      Rooikat - 2011-06-10 13:17

      There are conflicting forces out there - nothing stays round for long.

  • Ben - 2011-06-10 12:24

    Voyager 1 been traveling since 1977. 18 billion km... Traveling at 61,420km/h... and will take another 73,600 years to reach the nearest star,Proxima Centauri.

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-06-10 15:58

      The Voyager 1 Probe has now travelled more than 8 billion miles since the first announcement of Duke Nukem Forever. XD

  • Dropa - 2011-06-10 13:32

    NASA keeps contact with probes 16 billion kilometres from earth, but we can not even get 100% cell phone reception from point A to point B here on earth.

  • charlie s. - 2011-09-07 01:43

    pics or it didn't happen

  • charlie s. - 2011-09-07 01:43

    pics or it didn't happen

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