Data has shown that the sun's heliosphere is shrinking Photo: AP
Source: Richard Gray, Science Correspondent 1:30PM BST 18 Oct 2008
New data has revealed that the heliosphere, the protective shield of energy that surrounds our solar system, has weakened by 25 per cent over the past decade and is now at it lowest level since the space race began 50 years ago.
Scientists are baffled at what could be causing the barrier to shrink in this way and are to launch mission to study the heliosphere.
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, will be launched from an aircraft on Sunday on a Pegasus rocket into an orbit 150,000 miles above the Earth where it will "listen" for the shock wave that forms as our solar system meets the interstellar radiation.
Dr Nathan Schwadron, co-investigator on the IBEX mission at Boston University, said: "The interstellar medium, which is part of the galaxy as a whole, is actually quite a harsh environment. There is a very high energy galactic radiation that is dangerous to living things.
"Around 90 per cent of the galactic cosmic radiation is deflected by our heliosphere, so the boundary protects us from this harsh galactic environment."