Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cluster makes an effervescent discovery

21.06.2006
Space is fizzing. Above our heads, where the Earth’s magnetic field meets the constant stream of gas from the Sun, thousands of bubbles of superheated gas are constantly growing and popping.

Their discovery could allow scientists to finally understand the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field.

This exciting new view of near-Earth space has been made possible by ESA’s four-spacecraft flotilla, Cluster, and Double Star, ESA’s collaborative space mission with China. The spacecraft encounter the bubbles every time they are on the day-lit side of the Earth, at altitudes of between 13 and 19 Earth radii.

The bubbles, known as density holes, are regions of space where the density of gas suddenly falls by ten times but the temperature of the remaining gas leaps from 100 000 ºC to 10 000 000 ºC.

When Cluster first flew through the bubbles, George Parks, University of California, Berkeley, thought that they were just instrumentation glitches. "Then I looked at the data from all four Cluster spacecraft. These anomalies were being observed simultaneously by all the spacecraft. That’s when I believed that they were real," says Parks.

Somewhat similar bubbles have occasionally been encountered in the past by other spacecraft. They were called hot flow anomalies but Parks decided the bubbles he saw are significantly different.

He found their signature in Double Star data too. During every orbit, the spacecraft usually fly through 20–40 bubbles. By carefully correlating the different spacecraft readings, Parks and his collaborators learnt that the bubbles expand to about 1 000 kilometres and probably last about 10 seconds before bursting and being replaced by the cooler, denser solar wind.

The energy source to drive these bubbles is currently uncertain but there is strong circumstantial evidence that the collision of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetic field, which forms a boundary known as the bow shock, is probably creating the energy to drive them.

Bow shocks exist throughout nature. The familiar place is at the front of a ship; the bow shock is the swell of white water that builds up and precedes the boat. Another is in supersonic air travel. As an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound, the sound waves pile up in front of the plane. That energy is finally dissipated in the sonic boom that occurs.

The bow shock between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind is similar in many respects. The big difference is that scientists do not know how the energy in the magnetic bow shock is dissipated. This is to say they do not know what the equivalent of the sonic boom is. The newly discovered bubbles might provide a clue.

It is possible that they are caused by the energy that piles up at the bow shock – however, being certain is a long way off yet.

"For now, our job is to study them as thoroughly as possible. Then we will try to simulate them on computers and finally we will know what effect they have," concludes Parks.

Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMX66L8IOE_index_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms
17.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht New functional principle to generate the „third harmonic“
16.02.2017 | Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V.

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Switched-on DNA

20.02.2017 | Materials Sciences

Second cause of hidden hearing loss identified

20.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

Prospect for more effective treatment of nerve pain

20.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>