Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cluster listens to the sounds of Earth

30.06.2008
The first thing an alien race is likely to hear from Earth is chirps and whistles, a bit like R2-D2, the robot from Star Wars.

In reality, they are the sounds that accompany the aurora. Now ESA’s Cluster mission is showing scientists how to understand this emission and, in the future, search for alien worlds by listening for their sounds.

Scientists call this radio emission the Auroral Kilometric Radiation (AKR). It is generated high above the Earth, by the same shaft of solar particles that then causes an aurora to light the sky beneath. For decades, astronomers had assumed that these radio waves travelled out into space in an ever-widening cone, rather like light emitted from a torch. Thanks to Cluster, astronomers now know this is not true.

By analysing 12 000 separate bursts of AKR, a team of astronomers have determined that the AKR is beamed into space in a narrow plane. This is like placing a mask over the torch with just a small slit in the middle for light to escape.

“We can now determine exactly where the emission is coming from,” says Robert Mutel, University of Iowa, who conducted the three-year study with colleagues. For each of the AKR bursts they analysed, the astronomers pinpointed its point of origin to regions in Earth’s magnetic field just a few tens of kilometres in size. These were located a few thousand kilometres above where the light of the aurora is formed.

“This result was only possible because of the Cluster mission’s four spacecraft,” says Mutel. Consisting of four nearly identical spacecraft flying in formation, Cluster allowed the scientists to precisely time when the AKR washed over each of the satellites. Using this information, the scientists triangulated the points of origin, in a similar way to the way GPS navigation works.

AKR was discovered by satellites in the early 1970s. It is blocked from reaching the ground by the ionosphere, the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. This is just as well because otherwise it would overwhelm the transmissions from all our radio stations. It is 10 000 times more intense than even the strongest military radar signal. “Whenever you have aurora, you get AKR,” says Mutel. That includes aurorae on other planets, too. Visiting spacecraft have seen aurorae and detected AKR on Jupiter and Saturn, the two largest gas giants in our Solar System.

Not only will this new understanding of how the AKR is beamed into space help astronomers understand the magnetic environment of those gas worlds, it will also help them search for similar planets around other stars.

Although looking for AKR from extrasolar planets will require much larger radio telescopes than are currently available, these instruments are on the drawing boards. Once these planets have been identified, the AKR can be monitored for how it winks on and off, allowing astronomers to calculate how long the planet takes to rotate.

It also provides new routes of investigation into the magnetic fields of other stars, many of which have magnetic fields thousands of times stronger than the Sun. They too, will produce radiation similar to AKR and these can be monitored.

The result is a major scientific breakthrough that gives astronomers a new tool with which to investigate both planets and stars.

Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMLX5SHKHF_index_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Ultra-compact phase modulators based on graphene plasmons
27.06.2017 | ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences

nachricht Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold
26.06.2017 | Toyohashi University of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Touch Displays WAY-AX and WAY-DX by WayCon

27.06.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Drones that drive

27.06.2017 | Information Technology

Ultra-compact phase modulators based on graphene plasmons

27.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>