By creatively using a radio telescope to see in 3D, astronomers have detected the existence of tubular plasma structures in the inner layers of the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth.
"For over 60 years, scientists believed these structures existed but by imaging them for the first time, we've provided visual evidence that they are really there," said Cleo Loi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) and School of Physics at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Ms Loi is the lead author on this research, undertaken as part of her award-winning undergraduate thesis and recently published in Geophysical Research Letters. In collaboration with international colleagues, she identified the structures.
"The discovery of the structures is important because they cause unwanted signal distortions that could, as one example, affect our civilian and military satellite-based navigation systems. So we need to understand them," Ms Loi said.
The region of space around the Earth occupied by its magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, is filled with plasma that is created by the atmosphere being ionised by sunlight.
The innermost layer of the magnetosphere is the ionosphere, and above that is the plasmasphere. They are embedded with a variety of strangely shaped plasma structures including, as has now been revealed, the tubes.
"We measured their position to be about 600 kilometres above the ground, in the upper ionosphere, and they appear to be continuing upwards into the plasmasphere. This is around where the neutral atmosphere ends, and we are transitioning to the plasma of outer space," explained Ms Loi.
Using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a radio telescope located in the Western Australian desert, Ms Loi found that she could map large patches of the sky and even exploit the MWA's rapid snapshot capabilities to create a movie - effectively capturing the real-time motions of the plasma.
"We saw a striking pattern in the sky where stripes of high-density plasma neatly alternated with stripes of low-density plasma. This pattern drifted slowly and aligned beautifully with the Earth's magnetic field lines, like aurorae," Ms Loi said.
"We realised we may be onto something big and things got even better when we invented a new way of using the MWA."
The MWA consists of 128 antenna 'tiles' spread over an area roughly three by three kilometres that work together as one instrument - but by separating the signals from tiles in the east from the ones in the west, the astronomers gave the MWA the power to see in 3D.
"This is like turning the telescope into a pair of eyes, and by that we were able to probe the 3D nature of these structures and watch them move around," said Ms Loi.
"We were able to measure the spacing between them, their height above the ground and their steep inclination. This has never been possible before and is a very exciting new technique."
This ability adds yet another accolade to the MWA's name after it had already proven its worth as a powerful precursor instrument to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and now the MWA's 3D vision has the potential to provide many more in-depth analyses of the formation of plasma structures.
"It is to Cleo's great credit that she not only discovered this but also convinced the rest of the scientific community. As an undergraduate student with no prior background in this, that is an impressive achievement," said Ms Loi's supervisor Dr Tara Murphy, also of CAASTRO and School of Physics at the University of Sydney.
"When they first saw the data, many of her senior collaborators thought the results were literally 'too good to be true' and that the observation process had somehow corrupted the findings, but over the next few months, Cleo managed to convince them that they were both real and scientifically interesting."
Ms Loi has been awarded the 2015 Bok Prize of the Astronomical Society of Australia for her work.
Verity Leatherdale | EurekAlert!
NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses