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NASA Probe To Study The Heliosphere, The Magnetic Bubble Protecting The Solar System

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NASA is planning a mission to launch a probe to study the heliosphere, which is the magnetic bubble that surrounds and protects the solar system from harmful cosmic radiation.

The mission, which will be tasked with sampling, analyzing, and mapping the particles that are flowing into Earth from outside the edges of the solar system, is targeting to launch by 2024.

New NASA Probe To Study Heliosphere

The new NASA probe, named the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, or IMAP, will help scientists in understanding the boundaries of the heliosphere. This area is where constantly flowing particles from the Sun, known as the solar wind, collide with material coming from outside the solar system. The collision reduces how much cosmic radiation enters the heliosphere, and IMAP will collect information on the particles that pass through the heliosphere.

"IMAP is critical to broadening our understanding of how this 'cosmic filter' works," said NASA Science Mission Directorate deputy associate administrator Dennis Andrucyk. "The implications of this research could reach well beyond the consideration of Earthly impacts as we look to send humans into deep space."

The new NASA mission will also look to better understand how the cosmic rays are generated. Cosmic radiation has negative effects on the health of astronauts, such as memory loss, and on technological systems. Cosmic radiation also likely plays a significant role in life across the universe.

IMAP will have 10 scientific instruments on board to study and analyze the particles that will be passing through the heliosphere, and it will be placed around 930,000 miles away from the Earth and toward the Sun. The cost of the IMAP mission is currently estimated with a cap of $492 million, not including the cost of the rocket that will launch IMAP into space.

NASA Solar Terrestrial Probes Program

IMAP will be launched as the fifth mission under the Solar Terrestrial Probes program of NASA.

The other NASA STP programs are the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, which studies the Sun and the inner parts of the heliosphere; the Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission to investigate magnetic reconnection near Earth; Hinode, the solar remote sensing mission; and Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics, or TIMED, which observes the outermost layers of the atmosphere of the Earth.

It will take a while before IMAP joins its fellow STP programs in space, though, with NASA planning the mission to launch in 2024.

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