Professor Earns $411,000 NASA Grant To Study the Final Frontier of the Solar System
MELBOURNE, FLA. — Ming Zhang, professor of physics and space sciences at Florida Institute of Technology, has earned a $411,000 grant from NASA for a
contribution to the IBEX spacecraft mission. Florida Tech’s research team was funded to create a module on particle acceleration which will add to
information about the boundary of our solar system.
This project is a joint effort with researchers from the Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Hamid
Rassoul, Florida Tech professor of physics and space sciences, will collaborate with Zhang in this investigation.
The IBEX spacecraft, a NASA mission launched October 2008, is a small satellite about the size of a bus tire. It will observe the solar system boundary
while in orbit around the Earth. Its telescopes, which will look towards the edge of the solar system, will collect particles rather than
These particles, called energetic neutral atoms (ENAs), will provide information as they travel toward Earth from beyond the orbit of Pluto.
“Our mission, like that of IBEX, is to understand the physics of particle transport and interaction with plasma and magnetic fields in the distant
heliosphere, especially in its boundary, known as the termination shock, where the solar wind slows down abruptly. The study will help us understand how
particles are energized to become cosmic rays, an important component of the space environment, which concerns future human space travel,” said Zhang.
“Gaining knowledge of particle distribution in the distant heliosphere will support current observations by the Voyager twin spacecraft, which visited
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in the 70s and 80s and now are heading out of the solar system into the Galactic space. The investigation has broad
impacts on physics, astrophysics and future space exploration missions,” said Rassoul.