New 'retention model' explains enigmatic ribbon at edge of solar system February 5th, 2013 in Space & Earth / Space Exploration IBEX Artist's impression of IBEX's launch and deployment. Credit: NASA/GSFC. (Phys.org)—The vast edges of our solar system—the boundary at the edge of our heliosphere where material streaming out from the sun interacts with the galactic material—is essentially invisible. It emits no light and no conventional telescope can see it. However, particles from inside the solar system bounce off this boundary and neutral atoms from that collision stream inward. Those particles can be observed by instruments on NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). Since those atoms act as fingerprints for the boundary from which they came, IBEX can map that boundary in a way never before done. In 2009, IBEX saw something in that map that no one could explain: a vast ribbon dancing across this boundary that produced many more energetic neutral atoms than the surrounding areas. Scientists did not know what processes at the edge of the solar system could cause this mysterious increase in neutral atoms, or why any part of the boundary should be different from any other. In the years since, scientists have devised models and theories to try to explain the ribbon and now, building on earlier interpretations scientists have added a new hypothesis to help solve this puzzle. In a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers propose a "retention theory" that for the first time explains the key observation of the unexplained ribbon's width. The paper appeared online on Feb. 4, 2013. Indeed, since the discovery of the ribbon, over a dozen competing theories seeking to explain the phenomenon have been put forth. The new theory builds on one that was first published along with the discovery of the ribbon in 2009 and then quantitatively simulated in 2010. This theory posited that the ribbon exists in a special location where neutral hydrogen atoms from the solar wind cross the local galactic magnetic field. Neutral atoms are not affected by magnetic fields, but when their electrons get stripped away they become charged ions and begin to gyrate rapidly around magnetic field lines. This process frequently aims ions back toward the sun. So those ions that pick up electrons at the right time might explain the extra boost of neutral atoms that create the ribbon. The problems were that physical processes might break down the distribution needed for it to work and that models based on this process showed a ribbon narrower than IBEX observed. The new theory adds a key process: That rapid rotation creates waves or vibrations in the magnetic field, and the charged ions then become physically trapped in a region by these waves, which in turn would amplify the ion density and produce the broader ribbon seen. "Think of the ribbon as a harbor and the solar wind particles it contains as boats," says Nathan Schwadron, the first author on the paper and scientist at The University of New Hampshire, Durham. "The boats can be trapped in the harbor if the ocean waves outside it are powerful enough. This is the nature of the new ribbon model. The ribbon is a region where particles, originally from the solar wind, become trapped or retained due to intense waves and vibrations in the magnetic field."
NASA’s IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) spacecraft has made the first all-sky maps of the boundary between the Sun’s environment (the heliosphere), and interstellar space. The results, reported as a bright, winding ribbon of unknown origin which bisects the maps, have taken researchers by surprise. However, the discovery fits the electric model of stars perfectly.
The publicized image of the Sun’s interaction with interstellar space is like the shock front of a supersonic aircraft. We are told the “magnetic bubble” of the heliosphere protects us like a cocoon as the Sun and its planets travel through the Milky Way. The concept of Langmuir’s plasma sheath is entirely missing from this picture. It is electrically inert. Image credit: Adler Planetarium/Chicago IBEX has discovered that the heliosheath is dominated not by the Sun but by the Galaxy’s magnetic field. Since the galaxy’s magnetic field traces the direction of interstellar electric current flow in space near the Sun, it is a result that conforms to the EU model of galaxies and stars.
This diagram shows a conceptual cross-section along the central axis of the stellar Z-pinch at the Sun’s position. Whether the double layers exist within or outside the heliosphere is unknown. The diameter of the encircling cylinder is unknown. That of supernova 1987A is of the order of a light-year, which would make the diameter of the heliosphere more than 600 times smaller! Note that as a rotating charged body the Sun’s magnetic field is not aligned with the interstellar magnetic field and Z-pinch axis. The Sun’s magnetic field only has influence within the tiny heliosphere but it is modulated by galactic currents. Alfvén’s axial “double layers” (DLs) have been included although their distance from the Sun is unknown. DLs are produced in current carrying plasma and are the one region where charge separation takes place in plasma and a high voltage is generated across them (see discussion below).
The Z-pinch model offers a simple explanation for the “giant ribbon” found wrapped around the heliosphere. The Z-pinch is naturally aligned with the interstellar magnetic field. Solar “wind” ions are scattered and neutralized by electrons from the Birkeland current filaments to form ENA’s coming from the Z-pinch ring, a giant ring about the solar system and orthogonal to the interstellar magnetic field. The Sun’s heliospheric circuit is connected to the galaxy via the central column and the disk of charged particles. The current path is traced by magnetic fields. The “open” helical magnetic fields discovered high above the Sun’s poles by the Ulysses spacecraft are supportive of Alfvén’s stellar circuit model. And the solar “wind” would seem to connect to the broader disk of charged particles about the heliosphere. Given the detail in this model we should expect, as more data comes in, that researchers may find in the ENA “ribbon,” bright spots, filamentary structures, and movement of the bright spots consistent with rotation of Birkeland current filament pairs and their possible coalescence.