FMU Planetarium ventures to the edge of the solar system

Christian McMillan, Staff Writer

Francis Marion University’s (FMU) astrology department presented “IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System” to over 91 interested guests. The show occurred Sunday, Jan. 25, at 3 p.m. at the Dooley Planetarium on the second floor in the Cauthen Educational Media Center. The show was free to both the public and students.

FMU’s astrology department took their audience on a memorable journey through space. The educational journey was made possible with the new projector recently acquired from NASA thanks to Dr. Jeannette Myers, an astronomy professor at FMU. The full dome projector not only displays the stars of the Solar System, but now it is possible to help the audience feel like they are flying through the stars and even the entire galaxy while using it.

This new projector system allows the astronomy department to explore the captivating world of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission. IBEX was a part of NASA’s education and public outreach program led by the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Ill. The new projector system demonstrated the mysteries and wonders of outer space for the eager space enthusiasts.

The audience learned that our solar system is surrounded, and in most cases protected, by a bubble formed by solar winds. These solar winds are composed of charged particles like electrons, protons and the magnetic field created by the sun. Thanks to the sun, our planet, along with the other planets, moons and asteroids in our solar system, are protected from potentially harmful particles. Those harmful particles can include but are not limited to, galactic cosmic rays, protons, neutrons and electrons. The solar winds from the sun push all of these potential threats at millions of mph. These expansive winds are what create a strong protective shield around our galaxy and the interstellar medium beyond it. This solar wind creates a boundary that the IBEX space probe is looking for. The edge, or boundary, is located in the heliosphere. The heliosphere is where the interstellar mediums strength is matched by the solar winds. IBEX is currently making the journey of not only locating the boundary but also searching for the origins of the particles that exist in the solar system.

“I hope [the audience] came away knowing the fact that there are other things beyond our solar system and the fact that this spacecraft is out there studying it,” Dr. Ginger Bryngelson, professor and planetarium presenter, said.

According to Bryngelson the space orb has been locating and measuring the boundary since its launch in 2008. As of 2013, the space satellite was orbiting Earth, sending back data to one of the many teams around the world that are a part of this project.  Exploring the border between our galaxy and beyond is just the tip of the iceberg.

“It is kind of like a new frontier,” Bryngelson said. “People have explored the wild West, space, the moon, and Mars. Now [we are] exploring beyond the solar system [and it] is fairly new territory.”

Future discoveries will hopefully shed some light into the mysteries of the heliosphere, what it encompasses and how it protects the solar system we call home. This project will, with any luck, set the path for an even deeper exploration of the space surrounding our solar system in the future.