IBEX Interstellar Boundary Explorer

NASA's IBEX (Interstellar Boundary Explorer) is due to launch on October 19th (2008); this two year mission will explore the outer edge of the solar system.


(NASA IBEX satellite)

The IBEX satellite will be launched and then boosted to high altitude orbit by a special solid-state booster. It will be able to investigate and capture images of processes taking place at the interstellar boundary of the solar system, where the solar system meets interstellar space.

"The interstellar boundary regions are critical because they shield us from the vast majority of dangerous galactic cosmic rays, which otherwise would penetrate into Earth's orbit and make human spaceflight much more dangerous," said David J. McComas, IBEX principal investigator.

The story of the outer solar system began to unfold when the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts left the inner solar system and headed out toward the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space.


(Artist's conception of IBEX examining edge of solar system)

I'm fascinated with the general idea that the Earth lies in a special zone or area that is distinguished from the rest of space. There are also some enjoyable science fictional takes on this idea.

In his Known Space tales, Larry Niven suggests that the basic science underlying hyperspace travel cannot be performed too close to a large solar mass. Only the Outsiders, mysterious gas-based entities, thought to perform long experimental trials far from solar masses.

In his novel Brain Wave, Frederik Pohl speculates that great zones in the galaxy have different physical properties; important constants are different. When the Earth moves out of such a zone, life on Earth undergoes a sudden increase in intelligence.

From NASA spacecraft ready to explore outer solar system.

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