The Interstellar Boundary Explorer discovered a stange barrier of energy and particles that surrounds the solar system. Recently scientists have isolated the ribbon of energy, but questions remain.
The heliosphere, the bubble of energy provided by the sun which envelops all the planets in the solar system, was known to block cosmic rays coming in from the rest of the universe. It seems that it doesn't do so alone. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) orbited earth, in an attempt to map the edges of the solar system. The maps it brought back show that there is a specific energy barrier wrapped around the solar system. IBEX scientists have looked over maps made by the mission, and have managed to chart the shape of this huge ribbon of energy.
The IBEX used cameras that were sensitive to energetic neutral atoms, instead of photons, to focus on the boundary of the bubble of energy around our solar system. The heliosphere is puffed up, to a large degree, by the high-energy particles that shoot out of the sun. The ribbon appears to stretch down and wind around the heliosphere like stripes on a candy cane, and then move on.
There's no word, now, on how the 'ribbon' of energy was made. Scientists believe that it is a result of the heliosphere interacting with the magnetic field created by the galaxy, but don't know specifics. The unexpected finding leaves people with a clearer view of what the edge of the solar system looks like, even if no one knows why it looks that way.
Image Credit: IBEX Science Team/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio/ESA