Video: Our solar system’s comet-like tail

Visualize the sun’s tail – which space scientists call the “heliotail” – with this video.

Our solar system has a comet-like tail. That’s what the illustrations on this page are depicting: a long tail streaming behind our heliosphere, the sphere of our sun’s influence. In other words, the round ball in these images is not the sun itself, but our entire solar system, out to the orbits of the farthest planets, dwarf planets, Kuiper belt objects and beyond. The edges of the ball mark the heliopause, where the sun’s influence ends and interstellar space – the space between the stars – begins. For the first time, a spacecraft has mapped out the structure of our solar system’s tail, which trails behind our sun as it orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy Not surprisingly, scientists are calling it the heliotail. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, is a NASA satellite that’s making a map of the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. The video below explains more.

NASA says:

By combining observations from the first three years of IBEX imagery, scientists have mapped out a tail that shows a combination of fast and slow moving particles. The entire structure twisted, because it experiences the pushing and pulling of magnetic fields outside the solar system.

Bottom line: On July 10, 2013, NASA released a video explaining a new understanding of the solar system’s comet-like tail, made possible by a satellite called the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX.

Deborah Byrd