Understanding the material from beyond our solar system tells of our past and evolution.
No man-made object has yet to slip the bounds of our solar system and enter interstellar space. But we can measure some of the atoms that make their way into the solar system from the outside. Crossing this boundary, they travel 7.5 billion miles over 30 years until some of them hit the detector on NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite. In 2009 and 2010, IBEX detected neon and oxygen atoms, and in doing so gave scientists the most complete glimpse yet of interstellar material. The results? It's an alien environment out there. The interstellar material has less oxygen in any given slice than anywhere in our solar system. This suggests that the solar system evolved in a separate, more oxygen-rich part of the galaxy or that critical, life-giving oxygen lies trapped in interstellar dust grains or ices. Either way, this affects our understanding of how the solar system, and life, formed. Watch in the videos below to see how IBEX detected this "alien" material.