For the first time scientists, using a NASA spacecraft, observed "alien" particles that originated from outside of our solar system, officials announced on Tuesday.
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft is currently orbiting Earth about 200,000 miles away. The spacecraft was designed to capture various particles including hydrogen, oxygen, and neon that come from interstellar space.
"It's exciting to be able to have these first observations of alien matter, stuff that didn't come from our sun or the planets, but came from the outside of our solar system, from other parts of the galaxy," David McComas, team leader for the IBEX program, said during a NASA news conference.
The IBEX probe was launched in October 2008 with the intention of mapping the edges of our solar system, called the heliosphere.
The new findings give scientist a narrow window into what is exactly deep space is made of, such as the matter that is found between stars as well as our own galaxy.
"It's so exciting to know where our sun is in relation to local clouds. It really puts our sun in context for the first time," said Seth Redfield, an astronomer from Wesleyan University.
The edge of the heliosphere is about a hundred times farther from us than Earth is from the sun, and it shields the inner solar system from deadly cosmic radiation.
The heliosphere is able to protect us within the solar system because the heliosphere and its magnetic field push away damaging radiation. These particles which are from other stars travel through space toward our solar system at 50,000 miles an hour.
"Our location within our local interstellar cloud is important," Redfield continued, "because the heliosphere structure changes depending on where it is inside a cloud or outside, and so it has consequences for how well it shields us from those deadly cosmic rays."