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Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 5:02 p.m.

Solar system has tail, just like a comet

  • This image provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center shows a diagram of the sun, the white dot in the center of the circle which represents the i...

    NASA

    This image provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center shows a diagram of the sun, the white dot in the center of the circle which represents the inner heliosphere encompassing the entire solar system. A tail of particles flows to the right of the heliosphere. The elongated shape in light blue, containing the inner heliosphere and heliotail, is the outer heliosphere, the region where the sun still has a small amount of influence.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA can prove it now. Our solar system has a tail, just like comets.
Scientists revealed images Wednesday showing the tail emanating from the bullet-shaped region of space under the grip of the sun, including the solar system and beyond. The region is known as the heliosphere, thus the name heliotail.
The findings are based on data from by NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX. The Earth-orbiting spacecraft was launched in 2008.
Scientists always presumed the heliosphere had a tail, but this provides the first real data on the shape.
Chief IBEX investigator David McComas, who's with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, says it's difficult to calculate the length of the heliotail. But the evaporating end of the tail could stretch 100 billion miles.
The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Online:
NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ibex/index.html

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