When NASA’s IBEX satellite began sending back data about energetic interstellar atoms, a notable structure of was noticed at the edge of our solar system, which astronomers dubbed “the Ribbon.” Now, some scientists think that this “ribbon” is evidence that the sun is entering into a superheated cloud of interstellar dust. If correct, they predict our solar system will slide into this interstellar cloud over the course of the next century. ScienceDaily reports:
“First full-sky maps of the emissions of energetic neutral atoms (ENA), obtained last year by IBEX, showed a surprising arc-like feature called the Ribbon. This astonishing discovery was later announced by NASA as one of the most important findings in space exploration made in 2009. Shortly after the discovery six hypotheses were proposed to explain the Ribbon, all of them predicting its relation to processes going on within the heliosphere or in its neighborhood. In a paper recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, a Polish-US team of scientists led by Prof. Stan Grzedzielski from the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, Poland, offers a different explanation. “We observe the Ribbon,” says Grzedzielski “because the Sun is approaching a boundary between our Local Cloud of interstellar gas and another cloud of a very hot and turbulent gas.”
But before you panic, the scientists go on to report that what gets called a “cloud” in space is not exactly the same as here on Earth. An interstellar dust cloud of this type is in fact still less dense than the best vacuum possible on Earth. So the danger isn’t that great. What’s the worst that could happen?
“Once in, the heliosphere will reform and may shrink a little, the level of cosmic radiation entering the magnetosphere may rise a bit, but nothing more. “Perhaps future generations will have to learn how to better harden their space hardware against stronger radiation,” suggests Grzedzielski.