A new NASA study details the magnetic field interactions between the Earth and the Sun as a result of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. The research was published in the Science journal this May, the 13th 2016.
The phenomenon described is called “magnetic reconnection” because of the opposing magnetic lines that break and reconnect afterward.
Many people do not give magnetic fields the importance water, air, and the sun have on us, but it is there, on the same line with these vital for life aspects.
These magnetic fields provide a barrier between the Earth and the Sun’s solar winds. The solar winds are a bunch of charged particles coming from the outer layer of the Sun with incredible speeds.
The discovery of the magnetic reconnection phenomenon is a crucial milestone for the understanding of magnetism, and generally, the “weather” is space.
The researchers believe this magnetic fields interaction or the magnetic reconnection is the force behind many other events such as the auroras observed at both Earth’s poles or the magnetic storms and “coronal mass ejections.”
No lab or space study during the last decade has been able to explain the magnetic interaction until the MMS mission. It is the first to observe how magnetic reconnection occurs.
Using four sun-powered spacecraft the MMS measures electrons within an interval of 3 seconds, with about 100 measurements per second. The spacecraft are identical.
During the reconnection, protons and electrons burst out in hundreds of miles per second beyond typical boundaries, and then they come back as a result of the magnetic line.
These particles measurements will make scientists determine whether the magnetic line reconnection occurs turbulently or in an “orderly fashion.” They will also help astrophysicists understand if the magnetic storms and solar flares can have predictable patterns, much like the weather is predicted on Earth.
Until now MMS has focused only on the magnetic fields from the sun-facing side of the Earth, but in the future, they plan on investigating the “teardrop-shaped tail” magnetic areas from the side facing away from the sun.
It’s still unknown how electrons are generated during the magnetic fields in the reconnection phenomenon – there are several theories – but MMS is still in its first phases.
More information on the magnetic fields will be soon available.
Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center