Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A decade of studying the Earth's magnetic shield, in 3-D

Date:
September 1, 2010
Source:
University College London
Summary:
Space scientists around the world are celebrating ten years of ground-breaking discoveries by "Cluster," a mission that is illuminating the mysteries of the magnetosphere, the northern lights and the solar wind. Cluster is a European Space Agency mission, launched in summer 2000. It consists of a unique constellation of four spacecraft flying in formation around Earth, studying the interaction between the solar wind and the magnetosphere.

An artist's impression of the Cluster quartet.
Credit: ESA

Space scientists around the world are celebrating ten years of ground-breaking discoveries by 'Cluster', a mission that is illuminating the mysteries of the magnetosphere, the northern lights and the solar wind.

Cluster is a European Space Agency mission, launched in summer 2000. It consists of a unique constellation of four spacecraft flying in formation around Earth, studying the interaction between the solar wind and the magnetosphere. The spacecraft each carry an identical set of 11 scientific instruments, which together capture 3D information about the magnetosphere -- Earth's 'magnetic shield'. A key instrument -- PEACE -- was designed by a team led by space scientists at UCL.

The solar wind is a continuous outflow of hot, magnetised, electrified gas from the Sun. Earth is shielded from the solar wind by its magnetic field, which surrounds the planet in a zone called the magnetosphere, many times larger than the Earth.

The magnetosphere prevents the solar wind from stripping away the atmosphere and protects Earth from deadly energetic particles produced by storms on the Sun. However the magnetosphere is not a perfect shield. Energy and material from solar wind can get inside, to cause the northern lights, ionospheric disturbances, the generation of radiation belts and disturbances to the ground-level magnetic field. These "space weather effects" are important because they interfere with spacecraft operations, communications, GPS signals and electrical power systems on the ground. Cluster is being used to find out how transfer of solar wind energy to the magnetosphere leads to these diverse effects.

PEACE measures electrons and electric currents in the solar wind, magnetosphere and aurora. During Cluster's mission PEACE has been used to study huge bubbles of plasma three times the size of Earth jetting through the magnetosphere, very thin sheets of electric current flowing through space where explosive magnetic reconnection occurs, and grand waves on the edge of the magnetosphere, formed by the solar wind 'blowing' over the surface before breaking and forming tornado-like vortices.

Dr Andrew Fazakerley, from UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and Principal Investigator for PEACE, said: "Cluster is revolutionising the study of the solar wind and the magnetosphere because it is the first space mission to reveal what plasmas are like in 3D, which is crucial to testing our theoretical models."

Cluster is also the first multi-spacecraft mission to study the northern lights or aurora. The aurora are caused when electrons from the magnetosphere smash into the upper atmosphere, but it's a mystery how these electrons are accelerated to high enough energies. Cluster's simultaneous measurements at different locations have given scientists the first opportunity to test ideas about what could be the cause.

"Cluster was not designed to visit the aurora, but luckily the orbit of the four spacecraft has naturally evolved to allow us to explore the unexplained auroral acceleration region which is the key to the formation of the aurora," said Dr Forsyth.

"We are very excited at the coming opportunity to investigate how the magnetosphere responds in the near future, as solar activity increases to solar maximum," said Dr Fazakerley.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University College London. "A decade of studying the Earth's magnetic shield, in 3-D." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100831201420.htm>.
University College London. (2010, September 1). A decade of studying the Earth's magnetic shield, in 3-D. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100831201420.htm
University College London. "A decade of studying the Earth's magnetic shield, in 3-D." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100831201420.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Could Cost Billions According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

AFP (July 29, 2014) The world's great apes face extinction within decades, renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall warned Tuesday in a call to arms to ensure man's closest relatives are not wiped out. Duration: 00:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rat Infestation at Paris' Tuileries Garden

Rat Infestation at Paris' Tuileries Garden

AFP (July 29, 2014) An infestation of rats is causing concern among tourists at Paris' most famous park -- the Tuileries garden next to the Louvre Museum. Duration: 00:54 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