Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

From ‘macro’ to ‘micro’ – turbulence seen by Cluster

11.08.2005


Thanks to measurements by ESA’s Cluster mission, a team of European scientists have identified ‘micro’-vortices in Earth’s magnetosphere.



Such small-scale vortex turbulence, whose existence was predicted through mathematical models, has not been observed before in space. The results are not only relevant for space physics, but also for other applications like research on nuclear fusion.

On 9 March 2002, the four Cluster satellites, flying in tetrahedral formation at 100 kilometres distance from each other, were crossing the northern ‘magnetic cusp’ when they made their discovery. Magnetic cusps are the regions over the magnetic poles where the magnetic field lines surrounding Earth form a magnetic funnel.


The magnetic cusps are the two important regions in Earth’s magnetosphere where the ‘solar wind’ - a constant flow of charged particles generated by the Sun that crosses the whole Solar System - can directly access the upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere (the ionosphere).

Large amounts of plasma (a gas of charged particles) and energy are transported through these and other ‘accessible’ regions, to penetrate the magnetosphere - Earth’s natural protective shield. Only less than one percent of all the energy carried by the solar wind and hitting the Earth’s magnetosphere actually manages to sneak through, but it still can have a significant impact on earthly systems, like telecommunication networks and power lines.

The solar material sneaking in generates turbulence in the plasma surrounding Earth, similar to that in fluids but with more complex forces involved. Such turbulence is generated for instance in the areas of transition between layers of plasma of different density and temperature, but its formation mechanisms are not completely clear yet.

The turbulence exists at different scales, from few thousand to few kilometres across. With in situ ‘multi-point’ measurements, the four Cluster satellites reported in the year 2004 the existence of large scale turbulence - vortices up to 40 000 kilometres wide, at the flank of the ‘magnetopause’ (a boundary layer separating the magnetosphere from free space). The new discovery of ‘micro’ turbulence, with vortices of only 100 kilometres across, is a first in the study of the plasma surrounding Earth.

Cluster: an unprecedented diagnostic tool

Such a discovery is very relevant. For example, it allows scientists to start linking small and large-scale turbulence, and start questioning how it is actually formed and what are the connections. For instance, what are the basic mechanisms driving and shaping the turbulence? How much do vortices contribute to the transport of mass and energy through boundary layers? Are small vortices needed to generate large ones? Or, on the other hand, do large vortices dissipate their energy and create a cascade of smaller ones?

In trying to answer these questions, Cluster is an unprecedented diagnostic tool for the first three-dimensional map of the near-Earth environment, its exceptionality being given by its multi-spacecraft simultaneous observations. Cluster is revolutionising our understanding of the ways and the mechanisms by which solar activity affects Earth.

Besides, Cluster’s study of the turbulence in Earth’s plasma, with the dynamics and the energies involved, is contributing to the advancement of fundamental theories on plasma. This is not only important in astrophysics, but also as far as the understanding and the handling of plasma in laboratories is concerned, given the high energies involved. This is particularly relevant for research on nuclear fusion.

For example, Cluster’s data are complementing research on plasma physics in the international ITER project, an experimental step involving several research institutes around the world for tomorrow’s electricity-producing power plants. In this respect, by probing into the magnetosphere, Cluster has free access to the only open ‘natural laboratory’ for the study of plasma physics.

Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM18O808BE_index_0.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Monitoring lava lake levels in Congo volcano
16.05.2018 | Seismological Society of America

nachricht Ice stream draining Greenland Ice Sheet sensitive to changes over past 45,000 years
14.05.2018 | Oregon State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

Im Focus: Computer-Designed Customized Regenerative Heart Valves

Cardiovascular tissue engineering aims to treat heart disease with prostheses that grow and regenerate. Now, researchers from the University of Zurich, the Technical University Eindhoven and the Charité Berlin have successfully implanted regenerative heart valves, designed with the aid of computer simulations, into sheep for the first time.

Producing living tissue or organs based on human cells is one of the main research fields in regenerative medicine. Tissue engineering, which involves growing...

Im Focus: Light-induced superconductivity under high pressure

A team of scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg investigated optically-induced superconductivity in the alkali-doped fulleride K3C60under high external pressures. This study allowed, on one hand, to uniquely assess the nature of the transient state as a superconducting phase. In addition, it unveiled the possibility to induce superconductivity in K3C60 at temperatures far above the -170 degrees Celsius hypothesized previously, and rather all the way to room temperature. The paper by Cantaluppi et al has been published in Nature Physics.

Unlike ordinary metals, superconductors have the unique capability of transporting electrical currents without any loss. Nowadays, their technological...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersonic waves may help electronics beat the heat

18.05.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Keeping a Close Eye on Ice Loss

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

CrowdWater: An App for Flood Research

18.05.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>