by Jade Small
With the help of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft scientist have been studying what seems like a wall at the edge of our Solar System. The region is about 100 times further from the Sun than Earth is. Particles from the Sun and uncharged hydrogen atoms from interstellar space interact at this point and extend from our Sun to a bubble called the heliosphere.
The heliosphere, where the two interact is thought to be a build-up of hydrogen which creates what scientist call a ‘’wall’’ which scatter incoming ultraviolet light from the Sun.
Voyager 1 and 2 first detected this wall around 30 years ago and now New Horizons found evidence of its existence too. Geophysical Research Letters published scientists’ analysis of the New Horizon data and the re analysed Voyager data.
“We’re seeing the threshold between being in the solar neighborhood and being in the galaxy,” Dr Leslie Young from the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, one of the co-authors on the paper, told Science News.
New Horizons used its Alice UV spectrometer to take measurements for ten years, from 2007 to 2017. An ultraviolet glow known as a Lyman-alpha line, made when solar particles hit hydrogen atoms was found by New Horizons.
Although the ultraviolet glow can be seen all over the Solar System, at the heliosphere there is a much larger glow caused by a wall of hydrogen, showing more ultraviolet light behind than in front of the wall which suggest the wall scatters the incoming light.
Researchers theorize that the distant source could be a wall of hydrogen formed where the interstellar wind meets the solar wind.
Although the theory is not definitive, New Horizons continues its journey and will provide any wall related information twice a year. The background glow could be caused by another ultraviolet light source in our galaxy.
Voyager 1 and 2 are both past the wall and unable to provide further information. New Horizons will cross the wall, if it exists, at some point in the future. If it does, the amount of ultraviolet light it detects will decrease which would provide evidence that the wall actually exists.
Scientists are already analysing data from New Horizon’s flyby of Ultima Thule on 1 January 2019, the most distant space object ever explored by an Earth spacecraft, some 6.5 billion light-years from the Sun, four years after its Pluto flyby in 2015.
Scientist estimate that they may know for sure if the wall exist by the time New Horizon’s mission ends in ten to fifteen years. At that stage, it should have made it to the wall.
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