NASA Announces a New Mission to Study the Edges of our Solar System in 2024

Sunday, 03 June 2018 - 3:05PM
Space
Solar System
NASA
Sunday, 03 June 2018 - 3:05PM
NASA Announces a New Mission to Study the Edges of our Solar System in 2024
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NASA
For non-astronomers, it's easy to imagine that the edge of the solar system is simply the point where nothing is orbiting around the sun anymore. But that's not the case: our solar system ends at the edge of the sun's heliosphere. 

The heliosphere is sort of "bubble" surrounding our solar system, made up of solar winds (which particles shooting our from the sun) as they collide with materials from the rest of the surrounding Milky Way galaxy. This bubble keeps out large amounts of harmful radiation that would other pour into the solar system, although some of those outside materials naturally slip through the cracks. 

Since we've sent precious few things to the edge of our solar system so far, it's a tough phenomenon to analyze closely. So NASA is doing the next best thing and studying the cosmic particles which have penetrated the heliosphere - the agency announced a new scientific mission called the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), scheduled for 2024.



This new IMAP spacecraft will be stationed about million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth, facing toward the sun, as it sit in a "Lagrange point" where the gravitational forces of the Earth and sun are fairly equal. From there, it will use 10 different scientific instruments to collect and analyze particles which slipped through the heliosphere.

The hope is that we can learn about what the heliosphere's filter can't pick up, since these are the materials which would be bombarding interplanetary travelers during future space missions. NASA also wants to use IMAP to learn about the cosmic rays generated in the heliosphere, which are also potentially dangerous to both astronauts and hardware

Dennis Andrucyk, the deputy associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said the following in an official statement from the space agency:

Opening quote
"This boundary is where our Sun does a great deal to protect us. IMAP is critical to broadening our understanding of how this 'cosmic filter' works. The implications of this research could reach well beyond the consideration of Earthly impacts as we look to send humans into deep space."
Closing quote


The mission won out over a handful of proposals for NASA missions, and good thing too - if we don't understand the radiation bombarding our ships in future missions, we could have a Fantastic Four scenario on our hands, for better or worse.
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