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The Heliosphere

The heliosphere is a bubble in space produced by the solar wind. Although electrically neutral atoms from interstellar space can penetrate this bubble, virtually all of the material in the heliosphere emanates from the Sun itself.

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Click on image for larger version.

The solar wind streams off of the Sun in all directions at speeds of several hundred km/s (about 1,000,000 mph in the Earth's vicinity). At some distance from the Sun, well beyond the orbit of Pluto, this supersonic wind must slow down to meet the gases in the interstellar medium. It must first pass through a shock, the termination shock, to become subsonic. It then slows down and gets turned in the direction of the ambient flow of the interstellar medium to form a comet-like tail behind the Sun. This subsonic flow region is called the helio-sheath. The outer surface of the helio-sheath, where the heliosphere meets the interstellar medium, is called the heliopause.

The precise distance to, and shape of,  the heliopause is still uncertain. Interplanetary spacecraft such as Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 are traveling outward through the solar system and will eventually pass through the heliopause.

The solar wind consists of particles, ionized atoms from the solar corona, and fields, in particular magnetic fields. As the Sun rotates once in about 27 days, the magnetic field transported by the solar wind gets wrapped into a spiral. Variations in the Sun's magnetic field are carried outward by the solar wind and can produce magnetic storms in the Earth's own magnetosphere.

Web Links
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NASA Logo Image Author: Dr. David H. Hathaway, david.hathaway @ nasa.gov
Curator: Mitzi Adams, mitzi.adams @ nasa.gov

Last Updated: August 11, 2014