Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Magnetic Whirlpools Feed Earth's Magnetosphere

Date:
December 22, 2006
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
Giant whirlpools of electrically charged gas, some 40,000 kilometres across, have been witnessed above the Earth by a team of European and American scientists. Using data from ESA's Cluster quartet of spacecraft, the researchers have shown that these whirlpools inject electrified gas into the magnetic environment of the Earth.

This image shows a three-dimensional cut-away view of the magnetic 'bubble' surrounding Earth, called magnetosphere. The curly features sketched on the boundary layer are the so-called 'Kelvin-Helmholtz' vortices discovered by Cluster [Hasegawa et al., 2004].
Credit: s: ESA/Hasegawa et al

Giant whirlpools of electrically charged gas, some 40,000 kilometres across, have been witnessed above the Earth by a team of European and American scientists. Using data from ESA's Cluster quartet of spacecraft, the researchers have shown that these whirlpools inject electrified gas into the magnetic environment of the Earth.

The magnetic field generated inside the Earth protects the planet from the electrically charged particles given out by the Sun. However, it is only a partially effective shield.

In the same way that a car can only travel along roads, electrically charged gas, known as plasma, can only travel along magnetic field lines, never across them. For a car to suddenly change direction, it has to use a road junction.

For a particle of plasma to suddenly jump onto a different field line, there has to be a reconnection event. In a reconnection, magnetic fields lines spontaneously break and then join up with other nearby lines. In doing so, the plasma is suddenly redirected along new routes.

Scientists know this happens in Earth's magnetosphere because of changes to the plasma sheet. This is one of the inner regions of the Earth's magnetic field. Plasma in the sheet is usually hot and tenuous, whereas the solar wind is cooler and denser. At certain times, the sheet fills with cooler and denser plasma over the course of a few hours.

For this to happen, the solar wind plasma must somehow be able to cross the Earth’s magnetic boundary, known as the magnetopause. Yet, until now scientists had no observational evidence that reconnection inside whirlpools contribute to this process. "Wondering how the solar wind could get into the plasma sheet is how I became interested in this problem," says Katariina Nykyri, lead author of the results, from the Imperial College, London, UK.

Together with colleagues, Nykyri began investigating a strange event recorded by Cluster on 3 July 2001. At this time, Cluster was passing the dawn side of the Earth. In this region of space, the solar wind is sliding past the Earth's magnetopause, in roughly the same way as wind blows across the surface of an ocean.

A previous Cluster observation had shown that whirlpools of plasma can be whipped up by this configuration. Such whirlpools are known as Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities and scientists suspected them of being the location of magnetic reconnection but no one had found any conclusive evidence that this was the case.

Cluster can recognise magnetic reconnection because of what researchers call 'rotational discontinuities'. These show up as sudden changes in the direction of the plasma flow and magnetic field. After a painstaking analysis, Nykyri found just such rotational discontinuities in the data for 3 July 2001. To be certain of her result, she reanalysed the data four times.

Then she developed a computer model to simulate the event. The computer showed that the Cluster data was only understandable if the whirlpools were causing magnetic reconnection to take place. In these reconnections, plasma was being fed down through the magnetic boundary of Earth and into the magnetosphere.

The work does not stop there. Nykyri and colleagues are now developing more sophisticated computer simulations to understand the whirlpools’ three-dimensional behaviour. "This is a very big challenge," she says, because of the additional numerical processes involved.

She also plans to search the Cluster data archive for more examples of these events.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "Magnetic Whirlpools Feed Earth's Magnetosphere." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 December 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061207160256.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2006, December 22). Magnetic Whirlpools Feed Earth's Magnetosphere. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061207160256.htm
European Space Agency. "Magnetic Whirlpools Feed Earth's Magnetosphere." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061207160256.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
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:
from the past week

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