Monday, March 9, 2009

Planetarium Show On Exploration Of The Outer Solar System Opens In Chicago

A new NASA mission that explores the outer edges of our solar system is featured at the Adler Planetarium and Science Museum in Chicago. NASA launched the Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission, or IBEX, October 19, 2008. This is the first NASA spacecraft to image and map the dynamic interactions taking place where the hot solar wind slams into the cold expanse of space.

"IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System" details the IBEX spacecraft's exploration of the outer solar system using energetic neutral atom (ENA) imaging to create the first global maps of interactions between the million mile-per-hour solar wind and the low-density material between the stars, known as the interstellar medium. Using these data, researchers will examine the structures and dynamics of the outer heliosphere and address a serious challenge facing human exploration by studying the region that shields Earth from the majority of galactic cosmic ray radiation.

The planetarium show also moves behind the scenes of the mission to spotlight a few of the countless tasks involved in developing a NASA mission and the hundreds of national and international collaborators and contributors that make them happen. IBEX's unique and relatively inexpensive launch method — dropping from an aircraft and launching aboard a Pegasus rocket, and then using its own solid rocket motor and hydrazine propulsion system to move into an orbit nearly out to the Moon — is also shown.

"Four months since launch, and we're getting fantastic science results,” says IBEX Principal Investigator Dr. David McComas, assistant vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). "The data so far are really fascinating with clear spatial variations in both the fluxes and energies of the neutral atoms traveling in from the edge of the solar system. We'll have much to tell later this summer following the completion of the first all-sky map."

The launch of the IBEX planetarium show coincides with the International Year of Astronomy, an International Astronomical Union and United Nations effort marking the 400th anniversary of the telescope and the decades of advances in astronomy and related sciences.

IBEX is NASA's latest Small Explorers spacecraft. The mission was developed by Southwest Research Institute with a national and international team of partners. The Goddard Space Flight Center manages the Explorers Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Adler Planetarium and Science Museum leads the mission’s education and public outreach efforts.

"IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System" premieres March 6 at the Adler Planetarium and Science Museum, 1300 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. For show times and ticket information, visit or call (312) 922-STAR.

More information on the IBEX mission is available at:

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