Astronomers have gotten the first-ever peek at our solar system's tail, called the heliotail, finding that it's shaped like a four-leaf clover, NASA scientists announced Wednesday.
The discovery was made using NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a coffee table-sized spacecraft that is studying the edge of the solar system
"Many models have suggested the heliotail might look like this or like that, but we have had no observations," David McComas, IBEX principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Tex., said in a statement. "We always drew pictures where the tail of the solar system just trailed off the page, since we couldn't even speculate about what it really looked like."
"…the comet-like tail streaming out from it."
We have seen similar tails in pictures of speeding stars elsewhere in the galaxy. But until now it has been hard to see for sure what our own sun's tail might look like.
Star with a comets tail science.nasa.gov...
August 15, 2007: Astronomers using a NASA space telescope, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, have spotted an amazingly long comet-like tail behind a star streaking through space. The star, named Mira after the Latin word for "wonderful," has been a favorite of astronomers for about 400 years, yet this is the first time the tail has been seen.
Galaxy Evolution Explorer--"GALEX" for short--scanned the popular star during its ongoing survey of the entire sky in ultraviolet light. Astronomers then noticed what looked like a comet with a gargantuan tail. In fact, material blowing off Mira is forming a wake 13 light-years long, or about 20,000 times the average distance of Pluto from the sun. Nothing like this has ever been seen before around a star.
"I was shocked when I first saw this completely unexpected, humongous tail trailing behind a well-known star," says Christopher Martin of the California Institute of Technology. "It was amazing how Mira's tail echoed on vast, interstellar scales the familiar phenomena of a jet's contrail or a speedboat's turbulent wake." Martin is the principal investigator for the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, and lead author of a Nature paper appearing today to announce the discovery.
IBEX has made several other important discoveries throughout its mission. In 2010, the spacecraft looked back toward Earth and got the first-ever glimpse of the solar wind crashing into the planet's magnetosphere. Last year, NASA announced that the spacecraft made its first detection of matter from outside the solar system, finding alien particles of hydrogen, oxygen and neon in the interstellar wind.
MYSTERIOUS radio bursts from the distant cosmos are revealing their true nature. They may be the death cries of a collapsing neutron star being severed from its magnetic field as it turns into a black hole.
Originally posted by filledcup
a tail leaves a trail. too bad they didnt say which direction it's headed. towards the milky way, away from the milky way, spiralling or orbitting the milky way? where that tail points is where we come from as we hurtle thru space.