- The main purpose of the study is to allow a better understanding of how the solar wind evolves with increasing distance from the Sun.
- Solar Wind is a plasma stream continuously flowing out of the sun.
- New Horizons was launched by NASA.
Last month, a study was published in the Astrophysical Journal by the New Horizons Plasma and Particle Team pertaining to the Slowing of the Solar Wind in the Outer Heliosphere. The main purpose of the study is to gain a better understanding of how the solar wind evolves with increasing distance from the Sun as it encounters an increasing amount of interstellar material.
The New Horizons probe data was used for the study. New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program. The main purpose of the New Horizons launch in 2006 was a NASA mission to study the dwarf planet Pluto, its moons, and other objects in the Kuiper Belt, a region of the solar system that extends from about 30 AU, near the orbit of Neptune, to about 50 AU from the Sun.
Solar Wind is a plasma stream continuously flowing out of the sun. This plasma mostly consists of electrons, protons and alpha particles with kinetic energy between 0.5 and 10 keV. The area of space from which it displaces interstellar matter is called the heliosphere. It has dimensions of the order of one hundred astronomical units (au). One AU is equal to the distance from the earth to the sun. A solar wind temperature is 1 million degrees Celsius. Large doses of the solar wind could be fatal, but there is no effect of it on Earth.
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In the past, only the Pioneer-10 and 11 as well as Voyager-1 and 2 have explored the outer solar system and the outer heliosphere.
Pioneer 10 is an American space probe, launched in 1972 and weighing 258 kilograms, that completed the first mission to the planet Jupiter. Thereafter, Pioneer 10 became the first of five artificial objects to achieve the escape velocity that will allow them to leave the Solar System. Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Part of the Voyager program is to study the outer Solar System, Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2.
New Horizons is more evolved and has more modern scientific tools. The SWAP (Solar Wind Around Pluto) was pivotal for this study completion. SWAP is an science instrument aboard the unmanned New Horizons space probe which was designed to fly by dwarf planet Pluto. SWAP was designed to record Solar Wind en route, at, and beyond Pluto.
The data from the plasma temperature and density allowed researchers to predict when New Horizons will reach the internal helioshis – an area where the solar wind is slowed down to subsonic speeds. This is the last layer of the heliosphere, after which the interstellar medium begins (heliopause and external helioshis).
The measurements allowed scientists to confirm the prior theory that the solar wind, absorbing this additional substance, slows down and heats up.
Space continues to be of interest and there are more interesting studies and discoveries to be made and to prove theories in the field of astrophysics.