Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sun's 'Heliosphere' (which protects life on Earth) is shrinking

In addition to light and heat, the sun projects a one-million-mile-per-hour wind of electrically charged particles (and magnetic field) that envelops our solar system. This protective bubble, called the heliosphere, keeps out intergalactic radiation that can destroy the DNA which makes life possible on earth.

But there's a little bit of a problem. The heliosphere is weakening, and scientists don't know why,
reports the Telegraph (UK).

Over the past decade, the heliospere has weekend 25 percent, and reached its lowest level since we started measuring it 50 years ago. If this continues, growing cosmic radiation "could result in growing levels of disruption to electrical equipment, damage satellites and potentially even harm life on Earth."

NASA recently launched the Interstellar Boundary Explorer scientists to keep tabs on particle interactions along the heliosphere's edge. The mission should lend clues as to how much of an impact the sun's weakening heliosphere will have on us.


(Image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

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