Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hidden portals in Earth's magnetic field

Date:
July 3, 2012
Source:
NASA
Summary:
A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal" -- an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed. It turns out that they do, sort of, and a researcher has figured out how to find them.

Data from NASA's Polar spacecraft, circa 1998, provided crucial clues to finding magnetic X-points.
Credit: NASA

A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal" -- an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed....

It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them.

"We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. "They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."

Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. They're typically located a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind. Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras.

NASA is planning a mission called "MMS," short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, due to launch in 2014, to study the phenomenon. Bristling with energetic particle detectors and magnetic sensors, the four spacecraft of MMS will spread out in Earth's magnetosphere and surround the portals to observe how they work.

Just one problem: Finding them. Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable, and elusive. They open and close without warning "and there are no signposts to guide us in," notes Scudder.

Actually, there are signposts, and Scudder has found them.

Portals form via the process of magnetic reconnection. Mingling lines of magnetic force from the sun and Earth criss-cross and join to create the openings. "X-points" are where the criss-cross takes place. The sudden joining of magnetic fields can propel jets of charged particles from the X-point, creating an "electron diffusion region."

To learn how to pinpoint these events, Scudder looked at data from a space probe that orbited Earth more than 10 years ago.

"In the late 1990s, NASA's Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth's magnetosphere," explains Scudder, "and it encountered many X-points during its mission."

Because Polar carried sensors similar to those of MMS, Scudder decided to see how an X-point looked to Polar. "Using Polar data, we have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and energetic particle measurements that tell us when we've come across an X-point or an electron diffusion region. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements."

This means that single member of the MMS constellation using the diagnostics can find a portal and alert other members of the constellation. Mission planners long thought that MMS might have to spend a year or so learning to find portals before it could study them. Scudder's work short cuts the process, allowing MMS to get to work without delay.

It's a shortcut worthy of the best portals of fiction, only this time the portals are real. And with the new "signposts" we know how to find them.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA. The original article was written by Dr. Tony Phillips, Science at NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA. "Hidden portals in Earth's magnetic field." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120703140559.htm>.
NASA. (2012, July 3). Hidden portals in Earth's magnetic field. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120703140559.htm
NASA. "Hidden portals in Earth's magnetic field." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120703140559.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

UN Joint Mission Starts Removing Landmines in Cyprus

AFP (Apr. 23, 2014) — The UN mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) led a mine clearance demonstration on Wednesday in the UN-controlled buffer zone where demining operations are being conducted near the Cypriot village of Mammari. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
California Drought Is Good News for Gold Prospectors

California Drought Is Good News for Gold Prospectors

AFP (Apr. 22, 2014) — For months California has suffered from a historic drought. The lack of water is worrying for farmers and ranchers, but for gold diggers it’s a stroke of good fortune. With water levels low, normally inaccessible areas are exposed. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener

Raw: MN Lakes Still Frozen Before Fishing Opener

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) — With only three weeks until Minnesota's fishing opener, many are wondering if the ice will be gone. Some of the Northland lakes are still covered by up to three feet of ice, causing concern that just like last year, the lakes won't be ready. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Warn Of Likely El Niño Event This Year

Scientists Warn Of Likely El Niño Event This Year

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) — With Pacific ocean water already showing signs of warming, the NOAA says there's about a 66 percent chance the event will begin before November. 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:
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