Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Space Blobs Create Super-Speedy, Backward Auroras

Date:
June 3, 1999
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Blobs of electrified particles spew violently from the Sun, zoom at "warp speed" toward Earth's magnetic field, and trigger an unusual form of aurora, scientists have discovered using an ultraviolet camera on NASA's Polar spacecraft.

Blobs of electrified particles spew violently from the Sun, zoom at "warp speed" toward Earth's magnetic field, and trigger an unusual form of aurora, scientists have discovered using an ultraviolet camera on NASA's Polar spacecraft.

These electrified blobs, called coronal mass ejections, travel at more than 1.5 million miles per hour, or 2,000 times the speed of sound, and create interplanetary shock waves that "ram into" Earth's magnetic field. This is roughly comparable to the way a supersonic aircraft breaks the sound barrier and creates a shock wave that we hear as a sonic boom. With the aurora, the effect of the interplanetary shock wave is not heard, but instead is seen as a multi-colored display by Polar.

The more common type of Earth aurora is formed through a process that begins when the magnetic fields that extend from Earth's Poles are dragged away from the Sun and Earth by the solar wind. When these magnetic fields collide, they annihilate each other and ultimately create a hot, electrified gas that produces an eerie, colorful display near midnight at high and low latitude locations such as Alaska and Antarctica. We call those displays the northern and southern lights.

These newly discovered auroras appear in those same latitude regions -- but unlike the better known auroras, they appear at high noon, when they would usually be obscured by the Sun. That would explain why no one on Earth has reported seeing them yet. In addition, these dayside auroras move much, much faster and in the opposite direction from ordinary auroras.

"This sheds new light on the way the Sun's tumultuous activities affect us here on Earth," said Dr. Bruce Tsurutani of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, co-investigator for the Polar camera. "Since this type of aurora has not been seen by earthlings, it's a prime example of a robotic spacecraft finding things we'd never know about otherwise."

"Originally NASA's Wind spacecraft was used to find interplanetary shocks," said Dr. Xiaoyan Zhou, a National Research Council resident research associate who is also on the Polar science team. "We wanted to find out what effect these shocks have on Earth. We were surprised to discover that they caused these unusual, fast-moving auroras." Polar's instruments confirmed their existence with a dozen sightings. These latest aurora findings were based on data gathered during the past two years.

Now that scientists are aware of the new form of auroras, they hope professional and amateur Earth observers will look for the phenomenon at certain locations like Spitzbergen, Norway in the winter, when the skies are dark at noon. "We're anxious to know what these new auroras look like when seen from Earth," Tsurutani said.

More will be learned about these space blobs, or coronal mass ejections, when NASA's planned Solar Probe spacecraft flies closer to the Sun's sizzling surface than any previous spacecraft. Solar Probe will launch in 2007 and will approach to a distance of only 1-1/2 times the Sun's diameter in 2010, surviving temperatures above 3,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

"I can hardly wait to see close-up pictures of a coronal mass ejection when the spacecraft flies through one as it's being formed," said Tsurutani, who also serves as Solar Probe project scientist.

The Polar and Wind missions are managed by Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. The two spacecraft are part of the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics program. Solar Probe is managed by JPL as part of the Outer Planets/Solar Probe project. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Space Blobs Create Super-Speedy, Backward Auroras." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 June 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990603071337.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (1999, June 3). Space Blobs Create Super-Speedy, Backward Auroras. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990603071337.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Space Blobs Create Super-Speedy, Backward Auroras." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990603071337.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) — Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins