Such colourful aurorae regularly light the higher latitudes in the northern and southern hemisphere. They are caused mostly by energetic electrons spiralling down the Earth's magnetic field lines and colliding with atmospheric atoms at about 100 kilometres altitude. These electrons come from the magnetotail, a region of space on the night-side of Earth where the Sun's wind of particles pushes the Earth’s magnetic field into a long tail.
At the tail's centre is a denser region known as the plasmasheet. Violent changes of the plasmasheet are known as magnetic substorms. They last up to a couple of hours and somehow hurl electrons and other charged particles earthwards. Apart from the beautiful light show, substorms also excite the Earth's ionosphere, perturbing the reception of GPS signals and communications between the Earth and orbiting satellites.
A key issue about substorms has been to determine how they fling material earthwards. The so called 'Bursty Bulk Flows' (BBFs), flows of gas that travel at over 300 kilometres per second through the plasmasheet, were discovered in the 1980s and became a candidate mechanism.
Observations suggested that BBFs were relatively small and typically lasted only 10 minutes, casting doubt on whether BBFs could play a major role in the magnetic substorm phenomenon. There was also doubt as to whether BBFs took place for all substorms.
Now these doubts are challenged by a statistical study of BBFs and magnetic substorms by Dr Jinbin Cao, Key Laboratory of Space Weather, CSSAR, Beijing, China, together with American and European colleagues.
Using observations of the central plasmasheet collected by three satellites of ESA's Cluster mission during July – October of 2001 and 2002, Cao and colleagues found 67 substorms and 209 BBFs. When they used the observations of only one spacecraft, they found that 78 percent of substorms are accompanied by at least one BBF. However, by combined observations from three out of the four Cluster spacecraft, they discovered that 95.5 percent of substorms are accompanied by BBFs. "For the first time, it seems possible that all substorms are accompanied by BBFs", says Cao.
Another key result of this work is that the average BBF duration is longer than previously estimated. Single satellite observations confirmed past results that the BBF duration was around 10 minutes.
However, by combining the data from three of the Cluster spacecraft, the observations reveal an average duration almost twice as long: 18 minutes and 25 seconds. So again, the multiple spacecraft data offered by Cluster was found to reveal more about the Earth's magnetic environment than data collected by single spacecraft.
"These new results by the Cluster mission clearly show that multi-point observations are the key to understanding the magnetic substorm phenomenon," says Philippe Escoubet, Cluster and Double Star Project Scientist of the European Space Agency.
Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Two dimensional circuit with magnetic quasi-particles
22.01.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation
19.01.2018 | Carnegie Institution for Science
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.01.2018 | Life Sciences