Our Solar System Really is a Golden Sphere
Recently I have been writing about the Way of the Golden Sphere, and the latest information from NASA’s Cassini, Voyager and Interstellar Boundary Explorer missions shows that the heliosphere — the ‘bubble’ of the Sun’s magnetic influence that surrounds the inner solar system — is much more compact and rounded than previously thought – it is in fact a Sphere. New data covering an entire 11-year solar activity cycle show that Sun and planets in our solar system are surrounded by a giant, spherical system of magnetic field from the Sun, calling into question the current view of the solar magnetic fields trailing behind the Sun in the shape of a long comet tail.
Because our entire solar system moves through interstellar space, scientists thought that the heliosphere was shaped like a comet, with a rounded head and an extended tail. However, data obtained by Cassini mission and combined with measurements from two Voyager spacecraft and Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) demonstrates that our heliosphere is rounded on both ends, making its shape spherical and symmetrical.
An instrument on Cassini, which has been exploring the Saturn system over a decade, has given scientists crucial new clues about the shape of the heliosphere’s trailing end, often called the heliotail. When charged particles from the inner solar system reach the boundary of the heliosphere, they sometimes undergo a series of charge exchanges with neutral gas atoms from the interstellar medium, dropping and regaining electrons as they travel through this vast boundary region. Some of these particles are pinged back in toward the inner solar system as fast-moving neutral atoms, which can be measured by Cassini.
The data that is gathered from the edges of the heliosphere will help us better understand the interstellar boundary which helps shield the Earth environment from certain cosmic rays that might be harmful. And, it is pleasing to note, in a case of ‘As above so below,’ we really do exist within a larger, grander Golden Sphere.