NASA spacecraft to map edge of solar system

NASA spacecraft to map edge of solar system

In a little over two weeks, NASA will launch the first spacecraft designed to image and map the edge of the solar system.

NASA scientists and engineers are prepping the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, dubbed IBEX, for launch on Oct. 19. The spacecraft will focus its attention on the edge of the solar system where the hot solar wind slams into the cold expanse of space, according to NASA.

The announcement comes less than a week after NASA disclosed that its Messenger spacecraft was to fly over the planet Mercury Monday, to start taking more than 1,200 pictures and hopefully help scientists figure out whether there is ice on the planet closest to the sun.

The IBEX images hopefully will help scientists figure out the interaction between our sun and the galaxy.

In a press conference Monday, NASA scientists explained that the area is known as the interstellar boundary - the area 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.

NASA first began collecting data on the outer reaches of the solar system when Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977, left the inner solar system for a trip toward the boundary. McComas said scientists received "totally unexpected" data from both Voyager spacecrafts, data that disproved many long-held beliefs about the area.

NASA reported that the IBEX spacecraft will be launched aboard a Pegasus rocket dropped from under the wing of an L-1011 aircraft flying over the Pacific Ocean. The Pegasus will carry the spacecraft about 130 miles above Earth and place it into orbit.

The effort will come just weeks after the Mars Lander used its robotic arm and several onboard instruments to discover the presence of ice on the Red Planet. Using an orbiter, two Rovers and the Lander, scientists are working to figure out if Mars holds the elements that support life and possibly even discover if some form of life ever existed there.

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