Fact: Space is a freak show. But that link goes to a post about deep space, beyond our solar system. Thanks to the IBEX probe, however, we're quickly learning that our own backyard is rife with the freaky-deaky too.
We first reported on the ambitious IBEX probe back in October, 2008, when NASA was preparing to launch it 130 miles into the heavens so that it could begin mapping the edge of our solar system. It's certainly been doing that since then, and the initial results are nothing short of mind-bending for the scientists reviewing the data.
There have actually been two IBEX "mappings" of the edge of the Sol system, about six months apart, and the results of each have been so markedly different from the other that scientists are reevaluating their models for solar winds and their behavior at the very edge of our Sun's influence.
The colorful image above is a rendering of one of the more peculiar IBEX discoveries. Basically what you're seeing is a "knot" of neutral atoms. The knot is part of a "ribbon" of these atoms that encircles our solar system. Between IBEX readings the knot untangled itself. It was an incredibly quick change, cosmically speaking, and was probably due to the oft-reported "quiet period" our Sun was experiencing as of late. This ribbon serves as a shield for our system. If it's changing quickly, NASA would want to know because...
This research goes beyond just figuring out how our solar system works (which is amazing in its own right). There's also space travel implications—as in a manned trip to Mars or an asteroid. Weaker solar winds or magnetic fields, for example, could mean more galactic cosmic rays are making their way through the heliopause and into the inner solar system (i.e. Mars), where they could hammer future travelers with higher radiation levels. [Discover]