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
Gamma rays will reach beyond the limits of light
23.10.2017 | Chalmers University of Technology
Creation of coherent states in molecules by incoherent electrons
23.10.2017 | Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Salmonellae are dangerous pathogens that enter the body via contaminated food and can cause severe infections. But these bacteria are also known to target...
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
23.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
23.10.2017 | Life Sciences
23.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.10.2017 | Health and Medicine