Previously unknown types of electron beams found in space

While analyzing data from the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, astrophysicists discovered previously unknown types of electron beams: they are formed in the interstellar medium due to the interaction of emissions from solar plasma and magnetic fields.

Recall that the spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched by NASA to study the giant planets and the solar system’s outskirts. The devices collected a huge amount of information about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and also discovered they have several new satellites. Thanks specifically to Voyager 2, scientists have measured the interstellar medium’s properties for the first time: this helped make a discovery.

Almost immediately after entering the interstellar medium, the Voyager instruments discovered in space beams of electrons of an unknown nature, which moved at near-light speeds. It turned out that these accelerated particles were associated with shock waves that hit the interstellar medium along with coronal ejections and other manifestations of solar activity.

Outside the heliosphere, these plasma clusters began to interact with the interstellar medium’s magnetic field: the electrons in them became faster by about 670 times.

We have known for a long time that shock waves can accelerate particles. However, in this case, we are talking about a previously unknown mechanism of this acceleration. Also, we found similar particle beams in a completely new environment for us – interstellar space. Its properties are very different from the solar wind, where this phenomenon has already been studied.

Don Gurnett, professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa and research correspondent author

Scientists believe that similar processes drive cosmic rays and other charged particles after supernova explosions. They will continue studying this phenomenon to understand how supernova remnants behave and how many types of cosmic rays arise, potentially posing a threat to the lives of astronauts and astronauts.

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