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Space mission Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX)

IBEX in orbit – successfully launched on 19 October 2008

In January 2005, NASA approved a new space mission – Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) – to probe the galactic frontier of the solar system by imaging the heliosphere in fluxes of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs).

ENA Tutorial

The mission successfully launched on 19 October 2008. The science payload includes two sensors, IBEX-Hi and IBEX-Lo, to detect ENAs in two overlapping energy ranges.

IBEX web sites:
IBEX web site at SwRI (PI institution) and IBEX web site at NASA.

The scientific objective of the IBEX mission is to discover the global interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar (galactic) medium (surrounding the solar system) by measuring directional and energy dependence of energetic neutral atom (ENA imaging) fluxes from this interaction region. (ENA tutorial)

IBEX will answer four fundamental science questions:

1)   What is the global strength and structure of the termination shock?
2)   How are energetic protons accelerated at the termination shock?
3)   What are the global properties of the solar wind flow beyond the termination shock and in the heliotail?
4)   How does the interstellar flow interact with the heliosphere beyond the heliopause?


Primer for ENA probing of the solar system galactic frontier

ENA Imaging Tutorial

First space experiment – built, but never flown – to detect ENAs from interstellar (galactic) boundary (in Outer Heliosphere); pdf  –  download the file and then open it

Prediction of strong anisotropy of heliospheric ENA fluxes which meant that ENA images would be sensitive to the details of heliospheric interaction with the interstellar medium (in Planetary and Space Sciences); pdf – download the file and then open it

Review of experimental techniques and instrumentation for ENA imaging (in Review of Scientific Instruments)

First proposal and feasibility study of the new technique to detect low-energy neutral atoms, focused on detection of interstellar neutrals – this technique is the basis of IBEX-Lo (in Planetary and Space Sciences); pdf – download the file and then open it

Concept of ENA imaging of the heliospheric interstellar boundary (in Journal of Geophysical Research)

After IBEX – the next step in exploration of the solar system galactic frontier; pdf – download the file and then open it


The concept of ENA imaging of the heliosphere first emerged in 1979–1980. While the first simple dedicated space experiment to detect heliospheric ENAs was developed in mid-1980s; the instrument has been built but never flown. (See History of ENA study in space.)

It took almost twenty years – from the first vague concepts of late 1970s – to refine the concept of the experiment of heliosphere ENA imaging and to mature the instrumentation technology. A new field of space experiments and instrumentation has emerged: imaging of space plasmas in fluxes of energetic neutral atoms.

IBEX carries two ENA sensors covering two overlapping energy ranges, IBEX-Hi and IBEX-Lo.

For ENA experimental techniques and instrumentation
see review in Review of Scientific Instruments, 1997.

The concept of ENA imaging has spectacularly demonstrated its power on the NASA’s IMAGE mission (launched in 2000) carrying three ENA instruments for imaging magnetospheric processes in different energy ranges. (See also NASA's IMAGE site.) The Cassini spacecraft uses a dedicated imaging neutral atom camera (INCA) to study the magnetosphere of Saturn. NASA mission TWINS provides, for the first time, a spectroscopic view in ENA fluxes of the terrestrial magnetosphere by simultaneous observation from two spacecraft.



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