New information on the solar neighborhood has allowed researchers from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Turku, Finland to map the interstellar magnetic field structure and interstellar matter distribution. Their results are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Led by Docent Vilppu Piirola and Docent Andrei Berdyugin, the research team collaborated to gather high-precision polarization measurements. Polarization refers to the concept of stronger electromagnetic oscillation occurring perpendicular to the direction of motion of the light.
This study used observations from four different telescopes around the world: the Mauna Kea and Haleakala Observatories in Hawaii, La Palma (Nordic Optical Telescope), and the Greenhill Observatory of the University of Tasmania. Additionally, the study takes into account findings from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) orbiter, which was sent to explore the interaction between the Sun and the magnetic field in the solar neighborhood.
The IBEX observes energetic neutral atoms that pass through the heliospheric boundary. By doing so, it is capable of observing the interface between the Sun's heliosphere and interstellar space and matter where the solar wind almost stops.
Yet, the interstellar magnetic field (ISMF) direction can only be observed by high-precision polarization measurements. These are the type of measurements taken by high-precision equipment with polarization detection sensitivity at the Tuorla Observatory of the University of Turku.
The results from these measurements, as reported by Eureka Alert, show “interesting magnetic filament structures both in the direction where our solar system is moving in relation to the surrounding interstellar space (heliosphere 'nose') and in the opposite direction (heliosphere 'tail').” Piirola says the team is excited about their discoveries, adding that, “The filaments form ribbon-like arcs where dust particles and starlight polarisation have aligned with the direction of the magnetic field.”