The Heliopause and the Dark Star
Two decades have passed since the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft passed beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto. Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn, a feat repeated by Voyager 2 which then went on to pass by distant Uranus and Neptune (1). The many wonderful images these two craft sent back to the Earth gave humanity a relatively close-up view of the great gas giants for the first time. But these historic missions did not end with the planetary fly-bys.
Beyond the planetary zone lies the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt, and then a zone of strengthened magnetic field known as the Heliosheath. This boundary encases the entire solar system like an immense, invisible egg.
Scientists think that this boundary occurs when the solar wind, a momentous outpouring of charged particles blown away from the Sun, meets interstellar gases at the edge of the Sun's magnetic influence. The solar wind is pushed back here, creating a bow-shock. The exact location of this magnetic field edge is unknown, and probably varies anyway. It seems as though the Voyager spacecraft may be passing into this area, and the effect it has on them will teach scientists much about the Heliopause boundary. Preliminary findings also support a quite different claim made in my forthcoming book, "The Dark Star". As we shall see, the Heliopause may play a crucial role in the understanding of the nature, and appearance, of the Dark Star itself.
Back in 2003 it became apparent that Voyager 1 was entering an area of space where strange effects were being registered by the aging spacecraft. This area is thought to be the Termination Shock.
"The termination shock is
where the solar wind, a thin stream of electrically charged gas blowing
continuously outward from the Sun, is slowed by pressure from gas between the
stars. At the termination shock, the solar wind slows abruptly from its average
speed of 300 to 700 km per second and becomes denser and hotter."
It is now thought that the craft is at last moving through the Heliosheath area beyond that, at a distance of 8.7 billion miles. It is moving through an area of denser particles, and Voyager has detected a stronger magnetic field carried by the solar wind in this region:
"The strongest evidence that Voyager 1 has passed through the termination shock into the slower, denser wind beyond is its measurement of an increase in the strength of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind and the inferred decrease in its speed. Physically, this must happen whenever the solar wind slows down, as it does at the termination shock...
"In December 2004, Voyager 1 observed the magnetic field strength increasing by a factor of two and a half, as expected when the solar wind slows down. The magnetic field has remained at these high levels from December until now. An increase in the magnetic field intensity of about 1.7 times was seen at the time of the event announced in 2003." (2)
The magnetic field of the Solar System is over twice as strong in the vicinity of the Termination Shock, and other more complex effects have been inferred from the data detected by the remarkable Voyager 1 spacecraft:
"Voyager 1 also observed an increase in the number of high-speed electrically charged electrons and ions and a burst of plasma wave noise before the shock. This would be expected if Voyager 1 passed the termination shock. The shock naturally accelerates electrically charged particles that bounce back and forth between the fast and slow winds on opposite sides of the shock, and these particles can generate plasma waves." (3)
Scientists studying the phenomena at this region of space have concluded that there is a complexity here that was not previously considered. There are some remarkable changes to the magnetic field as the Solar Wind collides with vast expanses of interstellar gases. So what kind of effects might be observed if something more substantial were to come into contact with the Heliopause from beyond the Heliosheath?
The first hints about the power of these effects came from a remarkable image taken by the he Hubble Space Telescope back in February 1995, shown right. There is a visible bow shock about half a light-year across which is created as the wind from the star L.L. Orionis collides with the Orion Nebula flow.
Now, I have written on many occasions about the elongated path of the Dark Star, a theoretical sub-brown dwarf which approaches the planetary solar system during its perihelion passage.
This entity is more massive than Jupiter, and has a strong magnetic field of its own, surpassing that of the Jovian gas giant. In my forthcoming book, I discuss various scenarios about how this celestial entity might become visible from Earth, despite maintaining a vast distance from us. One of those possibilities is that the Dark Star encounters the regions of space that Voyager 1 is now passing through. Voyager 1 is detecting great magnetic upheaval here.
It seems reasonable to propose that the addition of a sub-brown dwarf into such an area, complete with its own massive magnetic field, would create vastly more complex effects. I'm not sure whether those effects would be strong enough to create an area of luminosity in the magnetic field, like a mind-numbingly colossal aurora effect. I'm not sure whether the Dark Star itself would be affected by the Heliopause area enough to become super-charged, causing it to emit flares of light. I'm not sure whether these theoretical effects, even if they occur, would be strong enough to be seen from Earth.
But when you look at that Hubble image from L.L. Orionis, it makes you pause for thought, doesn't it? Perhaps this is indeed the mechanism whereby the ancients were able to observe the Dark Star.
Voyager 2 has reached the edge of the heliopause unexpectedly early, leading scientists to believe that the heliopause itself is distorted. It appears to be dented in the southern celestial hemisphere by an unknown magnetic field. You can read about it at the end of my Voyager page.
The Dark Star's IBEX Footprint
On 16th October 2009 the latest findings about the Heliopause interactions were published in the journal Science. This image, released by the Southwest Research Institute, shows the extent of interaction of SOMETHING with the Heliopause. The image is absolutely incredible, and the anomalous data was so unexpected that the scientists working on the IBEX project initially thought the data was incorrect. But after verification, they were left with the grim task of trying to explain an anomaly that extends across a substantial part of the sky between the Voyager 1 and 2 probes.
David McComas [IBEX principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute] said when he first saw the IBEX results he thought, "'Something's wrong'...It was quite a long time before we convinced ourselves that we were right," he said. "[The ribbon is] aligned by and dominated by the external magnetic field. That's a huge clue as to what's going on. But still we're missing some really fundamental aspect of the interaction - some fundamental physics is missing from our understanding." (4)
NASA scientists are trying to grapple with how such an evidently strongly local interaction could be caused by the galactic fields interacting with the heliosheath (5). Frankly, I don't think this is the approach they should be taking at all. The ribbon is running perpendicular to the galactic field, rather than in line with it. Apart from that, this interaction is simply too extreme, and was not predicted by theoretical models.
Without the presence of a Dark Star there simply is no way to explain this emission of anomalous neutral particles from the Heliopause. It is the simplest and best explanation in town. I am confident that this new data is extremely strong evidence for the existence of a sub-brown dwarf beyond the Heliopause in this region of the sky. This kind of scientific result is exactly the kind of evidence I have been predicting since my book 'The Dark Star' was released in 2005.
The Dark Star is located beyond the Heliopause, roughly in the direction of the centre of this ribbon. I think this large interaction is the Dark Star's extensive magnetic field, and associated particle bombardment, interacting with the Sun's Heliosheath boundary. The Dark Star's lateral movement is very slow, so this does not indicate movement, but more like an aurora effect, like you would see when looking at the Northern Lights.
In 2013, IBEX also revealed the heliotail, extending away from the Sun in a comet-like manner (6). The structure of this tail is similar in shape to a four-leaf clover, and rotated slightly due to external interactions from the local interstellar neighbourhood. Again, such complexity might allude to the presence of a local phenomenon shaping the heliotail.
How near, how big?
It's been several years since astronomers discovered a number of Kuiper Belt Objects with inexplicably bizarre orbits (particularly Sedna and 2000 CR105). In my 2005 book 'The Dark Star' I discussed how these anomalies provide evidence for a companion object located within 2000 Astronomical Units (where one A.U. is the distance from the Sun to the Earth). At the time, the idea was also being seriously considered by serious scientists. They performed calculations to work out what size a companion object would need to be to create the Kuiper Belt anomalies, and at what distance (7). Their calculations indicated that a companion object was not only capable of creating these anomalous orbits, but was theoretically a better fit than the action of a passing star in the distant past. Here's a section of the conclusion Gomes et al wrote in their scientific paper:
"We have demonstrated that a distant planetary-mass solar companion (i.e., a planet orbiting within the inner Oort cloud) would be capable of raising the perihelia of scattered disk objects and placing them on orbits similar to those of Sedna and 2000 CR105. The perihelia of the SDO's are raised by the Kozai mechanism, so the orbit of such a hypothetical companion would in principle need to be substantially inclined to that of the orbit of the scattered disk object that was produced by perturbations of the known planets in order for the type of perturbations that we are discussing to operate efficiently.
"Note, however, that a very eccentric
Earth-mass companion with small perihelion (60 AU in the example that we
studied) and low inclination could also produce low inclination Sedna-like
orbits. The required minimum
companion mass would be only about Neptune's mass if it orbited with semi-minor
axis at 2000 AU, but would need to be a Jupiter mass at 5000 AU and 8 Jupiter
masses at 10,000 AU.
"A significant advantage of the solar companion model is that it naturally produces the very massive inner Oort cloud that is suggested by observations to date. A brown dwarf's planetesimals captured by the Sun can amount to a large mass, but the inclination distribution could favor any arbitrary initial plane (including retrograde)." (8, my emphasis)
Personally, I favour a sub-brown dwarf object located in the gap between the Kuiper Belt (which extends from Neptune out to about 50AU) and the Inner Oort Cloud (from about 2000AU outwards). The scientists indicate that an object at these sort of distance would need to be about as massive as Neptune, as a minimum. That still allows for an eccentric sub-brown dwarf within these parameters. Such an object would have 'swept out' the area of space between the Belt and the Cloud.
Interestingly, NASA recently put forward the idea that this same 'space' is currently occupied by part of an interstellar gas cloud, which they have given the unusual moniker 'Fluff' (9). This proposition is a response to the finding by the Voyager probes that the Heliopause (the sheath-like border between the solar wind and interstellar space ~75AU away) is misshapen.
It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that a companion object that has created the Kuiper Belt Object anomalies is also quite capable of manifesting a huge magnetic field, and of denting the Heliopause.
NASA's ENLIL Program
It's interesting to note that NASA's program to monitor the heliosphere is known as ENLIL, one of the chief gods of the Sumerians. Readers of the Dark Star website will be acquainted with the heliosphere, particularly with regard to the asymmetrical structure of its outer boundary turned up by the exiting Voyager probes. NASA have put this dent in the heliosheath down to 'interstellar fluff', where I have argued that the anomaly may be evidence of the existence of a sub-brown dwarf companion orbiting the Sun in a highly eccentric orbit. Here's the program's technical blurb:
"ENLIL is a time-dependent 3D MHD [magnetohydrodynamics] model of the heliosphere. It solves for plasma mass, momentum and energy density, and magnetic field, using a Flux-Corrected-Transport (FCT) algorithm. Its inner radial boundary is located beyond the sonic point, typically at 21.5 or 30 solar radii ... The outer radial boundary can be adjusted to include planets or spacecraft of interest (eg 2 AU to include both Earth and Mars, 5 AU to include Ulysses, 10 AU to include Cassini). It covers 60 degrees north to 60 degrees south in latitude and 360 degrees in azimuth." (10)
Theoretically, the model could solve for magnetohydrodynamics calculations right out to the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft, assuming they can provide useful data. This would then allow NASA to model the heliosphere right out to its boundary with interstellar space, where the interaction of exterior magnetospheres might be measured. This might include the influence of the interstellar plasma flung outwards from the galactic core, or of local companions whose own magnetospheres might press against the Sun's own shell at its heliopause.
The Sun is a complex MHD system that is poorly understood, where momentum is passed from the Sun to its planets through the expulsion of hot solar plasmas, including violent solar flares.
Written by Andy Lloyd, author of 'The Dark Star' (2005), 'Ezekiel One' (2009), 'The Followers of Horus' (2010) and 'Darker Stars' (2018)
© 26th May 2005, and updated 24th May 2006, 16th October 2009, 7th January 2010 and 13th July 2013
1) “Voyager’s Interstellar Mission” http://vraptor.jpl.nasa.gov/voyager/vimdesc.html
2) B. Steigerwald "Voyager Enters Solar System's Final Frontier" NASA 24/5/05 http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/voyager_agu.html
3) JPL Press Release "Voyager Enters Solar System's Final Frontier" 24/5/05, with thanks to Monika Myers
4) Clara Moskowitz, Mystery Emissions Spotted at Edge of Solar System, 15th October 2009, http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/091015-space-bubble.html With thanks to Craig and Mart
5) NASA press release, "Giant Ribbon Discovered at the Edge of the Solar System" 15th October 2009, http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/15oct_ibex.htm?list1300605 With thanks to Shad
6) "NASA Spacecraft Maps the Solar System's Tail" 10th July 2013, http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/10jul_ibex/ with thanks to Tarkin
7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/90377_Sedna, with thanks to David S
8) Rodney S. Gomes, John J. Matese, Jack J. Lissauer "A Distant Planetary-Mass Solar Companion May Have Produced Distant Detached Objects", Icarus 2006, http://web.archive.org/web/20070108051810/http://staff.on.br/rodneyg/companion/solar_companion.pdf
9) Tony Phillips, NASA "Voyager makes an Interstellar Discovery" 23/12/09 https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/23dec_voyager with thanks to Lee and Ivan
10) "ENLIL: Time-Dependent 3D MHD Model of the Heliosphere" http://gcmd.nasa.gov/records/ENLIL.html with thanks to Lee
11) "Magnetohydrodynamics" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetohydrodynamics