Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cluster hits the magnetic bull’s-eye

19.07.2006
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:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMAYXAUQPE_index_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor
24.04.2017 | DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute 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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>