NASA has announced that its aging Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft units have discovered the existence of a type of magnetic field at the edge of our solar system. Now, scientists have speculated for some time about the existence of the “heliosphere“, a field of charged particles, gases and forces on the edge of the solar system, which they believed to have been caused by the sun’s magnetic field and solar winds. Now, however, data from the Voyager space probes have revealed that this boundary is actually comprised of a collection of magnetic bubbles. The bubbles, some hundreds of miles in diameter, grow in number as the probes near the farthest reaches of the sun’s influence. These bubbles are thought to be formed by ripples of the sun’s magnetic field hitting a barrier known as the “termination shock”.
Astronomers speculate that the magnetic bubbles might work as a unit to protect the solar system from dangerous cosmic radiation, and other dangers of deep space. The following clip from wikimedia commons give an artist’s impression of what the entire solar system, including the heliosphere would look like according to what we knew of the solar system’s outer regions as of last month. The new data, however, suggests that instead of a streamlined heliosphere, the magnetic bubbles give the solar system a more distorted and busy look.
While on their way out of the solar system, the Voyager spacecrafts have passed through several of these magnetic bubbles apparently unharmed. NASA reports that they hope that the two spacecraft will soon exit the solar system altogether.