The little Voyager I probe just keeps on going out through the edge of the solar system and beyond, still sending back valuable information. Scientists already knew that at the very outer edge of the solar system was the heliopause, where the Sun’s influence ends and deep space begins, but it was always assumed that it was made of graceful arcs of magnetic energy curving back towards the Sun.
But as it turns out, it’s more like a frothy jacuzzi of magnetic bubbles.
Using a new computer model to analyze the data, scientists found the Sun’s distant magnetic field is likely made up of bubbles approximately 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) wide — “like long sausages,” said Merav Opher at the briefing, an astronomer at Boston University who is the lead author of a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal.
And the bubbles are moving around, with oscillations of plus or minus 10 to 20 km. “It is very bubbly as far as we can tell,” Jim Drake from the University of Maryland said at the press conference. “The entire thing is bubbly, like where the jets come out from a Jacuzzi.”
Opher said the bubbles, while not visible from Earth, cover a large portion of the sky at about 38 degrees latitude and as the solar winds “bumps” up against the heliopause, the bubbles fill up the entire region next to the heliopause.
Like Earth, our Sun has a magnetic field with a north pole and a south pole. The field lines are stretched outward, and as the sun rotates, the solar wind twists them into a spiral as they are carried outward. The bubbles are created when magnetic field lines reorganize. The new model suggests the field lines are broken up into self-contained structures disconnected from the solar magnetic field.
These magnetic bubbles should act as electron traps, so the spacecraft would experience higher than normal electron bombardment as they traveled through the bubbles.