Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Cluster hits the magnetic bull’s-eye

ESA's spacecraft constellation Cluster has hit the magnetic bull's-eye. The four spacecraft surrounded a region within which the Earth’s magnetic field was spontaneously reconfiguring itself.
This is the first time such an observation has been made and gives astronomers a unique insight into the physical process responsible for the most powerful explosions that can occur in the Solar System: the magnetic reconnection.

When looking at the static pattern of iron filings around a bar magnet, it is difficult to imagine how changeable and violent magnetic fields can be in other situations.

In space, different regions of magnetism behave somewhat like large magnetic bubbles, each containing electrified gas known as plasma. When the bubbles meet and are pushed together, their magnetic fields can break and reconnect, forming a more stable magnetic configuration. This reconnection of magnetic fields generates jets of particles and heats the plasma.

At the very heart of a reconnection event, there must be a three dimensional zone where the magnetic fields break and reconnect. Scientists call this region the null point but, until now, have never been able to positively identify one, as it requires at least four simultaneous points of measurements.

On 15 September 2001, the four Cluster spacecraft were passing behind the Earth. They were flying in a tetrahedral formation with separations between the spacecraft of over 1 000 kilometres. As they flew through the Earth’s magnetotail, which stretches out behind the night-time side of our planet, they surrounded one of the suspected null points.

The data returned by the spacecraft have been extensively analysed by an international team of scientists led by Dr. C. Xiao from Chinese Academy of Sciences, Prof. Pu from Peking University, Prof. Wang from Dalian University of Technogy. Xiao and his colleagues used the Cluster data to deduce the three-dimensional structure and size of the null point, revealing a surprise.

The null point exists in an unexpected vortex structure about 500 kilometres across. "This characteristic size has never been reported before in observations, theory or simulations," say Xiao, Pu and Wang.

This result is a major achievement for the Cluster mission as it gives scientists their first look at the very heart of the reconnection process.

Throughout the Universe, magnetic reconnection is thought to be a fundamental process that drives many powerful phenomena, such as the jets of radiation seen escaping from distant black holes, and the powerful solar flares in our own Solar system that can release more energy than a billion atomic bombs.

On a smaller scale, reconnection at the dayside boundary of the Earth’s magnetic field allows solar gas through, triggering a specific type of aurora called 'proton aurora'.

Understanding what sparks magnetic reconnection will also help scientists trying to harness nuclear fusion for energy production. In tokamak fusion reactors, spontaneous magnetic reconfigurations rob the process of its controllability. By understanding how magnetic fields reconnect, fusion scientists hope to be able to design better reactors that prevent this from taking place.

Having identified one null point, the team now hopes to score future bull’s-eyes to compare nulls and see whether their first detection possessed a configuration that is rare or common.

Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>