If you were to be asked, what is the shape of our solar system, what would you answer?
It seems to be one of the most mind-boggling questions that one can be asked of you, am I right? Come to think of it the solar system is a vast thing that still has a lot of mysteries underneath that we are yet to uncover.
But to help you get that good night's sleep after pondering of that question yourself, scientists may have come to a possible answer that can appease your worried mind.
According to research published in the March edition of Nature Astronomy, it suggests that it is possible in the shape of a deflated croissant.
How did the scientists come up with this?
For starters, one needs to understand the concept of what a magnetic bubble is. All of the planets in our solar system – from Mercury to Pluto, is enveloped by the aforementioned bubble.
The ‘shape’ of this bubble is determined by the interstellar medium outside the planets. The magnetic case is carved out by the Sun’s solar wind. Traditional scientific thinking has hypothesized that the shape is like that of a comet. They suggest that it has a rounded leading edge, which they refer to as its ‘nose’, and a long tail from its behind.
However, getting the specific measurements of this heliosphere is a herculean task to undertake. It is s massive that the closest of its edge is estimated to be more than ten billion miles from our planet. But folks over at NASA are able to conduct such undertaking with an array of missions and technologies available right in their arsenal.
National Aerospace and Space Administration’s (NASA) Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) conducts its study through capturing and observing particles, including charged particles that hail from long distances of our galaxy called galactic cosmic rays. These rays undergo a series of processes before they are bounced back to our planet. This process aids in helping specialists in crafting a possible model of the edge of the heliosphere.
Data gathered from IBEX is then fed to a computer system designed to process and make use of it. That is how scientists came up with their findings.
Additionally, findings from another of NASA’s projects, New Horizons, were able to provide substantial data from its research of pick-up ions, giving it a more detailed look on scientists' understanding of the matter.
With the combined findings from both missions and research, experts conclusively concluded that the solar magnetic field plays a crucial role in shaping the heliosphere. This helped in creating the croissant shape mentioned earlier and as the material flies away from its center, it creates a long tail on its end which is noted and agreed upon by several experts in the field.
Fun fact, our heliosphere also comes in handy when protecting us, acting more like a shield, to protect us from harm’s way of massive cosmic events in our solar system and beyond.
Here’s the tea, next time you go out with your friends and decide to eat out at a Parisian restaurant. Take a good look at your croissant before sipping down on your café au lait. Think and say to yourself, “This croissant is really the shape of our solar system. It even saves me from harmful solar events.” And after all, that, thank the French for a delightful meal they have shared with the world.