Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Teamwork: IBEX and TWINS observe a solar storm

13.04.2012
On April 5, 2010, the sun spewed a two million-mile-per-hour stream of charged particles toward the invisible magnetic fields surrounding Earth, known as the magnetosphere.

As the particles interacted with the magnetic fields, the incoming stream of energy caused stormy conditions near Earth. Some scientists believe that it was this solar storm that interfered with commands to a communications satellite, Galaxy-15, which subsequently foundered and drifted, taking almost a year to return to its station.


The highly elliptical orbit of TWINS offers a good view of the ring current -- a hula hoop of charged particles that encircles Earth. Credit: J. Goldstein/SWRI

To better understand how to protect satellites from intense bursts of energy from the sun, scientists study the full chain of space weather events from first eruptions on the sun to how the magnetic fields around Earth compress and change shape in response. During the April 5 storm, two NASA Heliophysics System Observatory missions – the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) and two spacecraft called the Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Spectrometers (TWINS) – were perfectly positioned to view the storm from complementary viewpoints.

The three sets of instruments have been used together to paint a more complete picture of what happens during a solar storm, from initial impact of solar energy through to the particles that ultimately slide down into Earth's atmosphere near the poles. These results were published online on March 27, 2012 in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

"One spacecraft can only take recurring measurements along its own flight path," says Natalia Buzulukova, one of the authors on this paper and a geospace scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and at the University of Maryland in College Park. "But this is not always enough to understand the whole event. With several spacecraft at once we have a unique opportunity to observe more of the magnetosphere simultaneously."

The two TWINS spacecraft and IBEX orbit Earth in very different paths. TWINS travels along a highly elliptical orbit around Earth through the magnetosphere. IBEX, too, circles Earth, but generally lies outside the magnetosphere allowing it to map the very edges of the solar system. Together, they offer glimpses from the inside and outside of the magnetosphere, including the side that faces the sun, the side that extends long away from the sun – the magnetotail -- and an electric current that sometimes appears around Earth like a giant hula hoop called the ring current.

"This imaging gives us a better global picture of the evolution of the magnetosphere — especially of the processes by which the sun injects energy into the magnetosphere — than has ever been available before," says David McComas, a space scientist at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, who is first author on this paper and also the principal investigator for the IBEX and TWINS missions.

IBEX and TWINS both have instruments to study what's called energetic neutral atoms or ENAs. These fast moving particles are produced during particle collisions between charged and neutral particles. Crucially, they move in a straight line from their point of origin, unmolested by the magnetic fields that would constrain charged particles in their travels. Thus they can provide an "image" to decode and map out the structure of a far away charged particle system, such as occurs in the magnetosphere and ring current.

The ENA images from IBEX were taken from a distance of around 180,000 miles above the magnetosphere. They show that the magnetosphere immediately compressed under the impact of the charged particles from the solar wind. Minutes later, one of the TWINS spacecraft observed changes in the inner magnetosphere from a much-closer 28,000 miles: the ring current began to trap incoming charged particles. About 15 minutes after impact, these trapped particles gyrated down magnetic field lines into Earth's atmosphere, a process known as "precipitation." The time delay between the onset of trapped particles and losing them to the atmosphere points to a fairly slow set of internal processes carrying the region from storm impact through compression to precipitation.

"The solar storm directly causes the ring current activity, but the other effects, including particles precipitating down toward the atmosphere, are triggered by something called a substorm, a process that releases energy form the magnetotail," says Buzulukova. "These two triggers have different physics and different manifestations. This analysis opens the door to understanding how these different effects are connected."

The paper also paves the way to more sophisticated modeling techniques of the entire magnetosphere. To produce the new images, the team developed a series of techniques to process the imaging data, including improved procedures for differential background subtraction, "statistical smoothing" of images, and comprehensive modeling of the ring current.

"Understanding how solar events develop and impact satellites is like understanding the processes that cause extreme weather events on Earth to develop and destroy homes and businesses," says McComas. "Engineers use weather data to know where and how they need to strengthen buildings against various types of weather threats. The more we know about the processes occurring in space, the better engineers can design satellites to protect them from space weather hazards, which is increasingly important in our highly technological world."

IBEX is the latest in NASA's series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorer space missions; TWINS is an Explorer Mission of Opportunity. Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio leads both projects with teams of national and international partners. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the Explorers Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.

Karen C. Fox
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Susan Hendrix | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/ibex-twins.html

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>