Let’s Explore The Heliosphere

The Heliosphere protects our solar system. It is produced by the Sun and contains our entire solar system like a warm and cozy blanket. The blanket itself consists of charged solar particles and solar magnetic fields, which helps protect Earth and other solar system bodies from space radiation, blocking some highly energetic cosmic rays that originated in interstellar space.

Although the heliosphere boundary is far from impenetrable, NASA is on a mission, so it will launch a new mission in 2024 to help scientists better understand the bubble that surrounds the solar system, agency officials say. The new NASA mission called the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) will collect and study fast-moving particles that manage to make it through.

Dennis Andrucyk, a deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement Friday (June 1).

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.

The probe will launch to the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable spot in space about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) sunward from our planet.

IMAP will use 10 onboard science instruments to characterize the particles streaking through that neighborhood. Such work should shed light on the interaction between the interstellar medium and the solar wind — the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun — and help researchers better understand how cosmic rays are accelerated inside the heliosphere, among other things, NASA officials said.

The cost of the mission is capped at $492 million, not including the launch vehicle. (These trips are expensive, don’t you think? Taxpayers money put to good use?!) IMAP’s principal investigator is David McComas of Princeton University, and the mission will be managed by The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

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