I think just like Wall Thornhill had predicted: not round and with an irregular edge....
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080702/ap_ ... lar_systemSpace probes show solar system dented, not round
WASHINGTON - When viewed from the rest of the galaxy, the edge of our solar system appears slightly dented as if a giant hand is pushing one edge of it inward, far-traveling NASA probes reveal.
Information from Earth's first space probes to hit the thick edge of the solar system — called the heliosheath where the solar wind slows abruptly — paint a picture that is not the simple circle that astronomers long thought, according to several studies published Thursday in the journal Nature. Surprised astronomers said they will have to change their models for what the solar system looks like.
In 1977, NASA launched two space probes on missions beyond the solar system. Voyager 1 went north and Voyager 2 went south. What startled astronomers is that when the two of them hit the heliosheath they did so at different distances from the sun.
Voyager 2 hit the southern edge of the solar system nearly 1 billion miles closer to the sun than Voyager 1 did to the north. Voyager 2 hit the edge at 7.8 billion miles from the sun.
"We used to assume that it's all symmetric and simple," said Leonard Burlaga, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "It's literally like a hand pushing."
That push is from the magnetic field that lies between star systems in the Milky Way. The magnetic field hits the solar system at a different angle on the south than on the north, probably because of interstellar turbulence from star explosions, said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone.
Both spacecraft still have several more years before they completely exit the solar system and continue deeper into the space between stars, said Stone, former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080702/sc ... 15jjdxieAASolar System is egg-shaped, scientists find
PARIS (AFP) - Millions of textbooks depicting our Solar System as spherical have got it all wrong, according to studies of data sent back from deep space by NASA's venerable probe, Voyager 2.
The Sun's zone of influence -- called the heliosphere -- turns out to be seriously asymmetrical, not round, they say.
The heliosphere comprises space dominated by the solar winds, or particles blasted out by the Sun. It goes way beyond the orbit of Pluto, which circles the Sun at a distance of nearly six billion kilometers (four billion miles).
Launched in 1977 on a historic trek of the outer planets, Voyager 2 has now crossed the turbulent boundary, known as the "termination shock," where the heliosphere yields to interstellar space.
Its twin probe Voyager 1, crossed the same threshold four years earlier at a different spot some 1.5 billion kilometres (one billion miles) farther from the Sun.
This difference proves that the heliosphere is not even close to perfectly round, but is oblong, like an egg, according to the studies, released by the British journal Nature on Wednesday.
The "bottom" of the egg is flattened by a permanent clash of particles, as the outbound solar wind smashes into atomic debris hurtling in from interstellar space, the scientists theorise.
Voyager 2 also crossed the "termination shock" several times within the space of a single day, showing that the boundary is in perpetual flux, like the ebb-and-flow of a tide.
University of Arizona astronomer Randy Jokipii paid tribute to the two Voyagers, which have been operating faithfully since their launch in 1977.
Crossing the heliosphere "opens a new age of exploration," said Jokipii.
"The stream of in situ and remote data from the outer reaches of the heliosphere has revolutionized our view of how the Sun interacts with the Galaxy."
For decades to come, the two spacecraft -- speeding outward at more than 17 kilometers per second (38,000 miles per hour) -- will be the only source of local observations of the far limits of our Solar System.
The probes were originally sent to fly by and observe Jupiter and Saturn, which they did with thrilling results, including the discovery of active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io, and unknown intricacies in Saturn's rings.
After that their mission was reconfigured to explore space beyond the Solar System's planets.
They became the first man-made objects to enter these cold, dark reaches, powered by long-life nuclear batteries in the absence of solar energy.
The spacecraft are so distant that commands from Earth, travelling at light speed, take more than a dozen hours to reach them. Each Voyager logs approximately 1.6 million kilometres (one million miles) per day.
Should they ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, the two probes each carry a time capsule, a "golden record" of sounds and images about life on Earth in the mid-1970s.