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
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?
02.12.2016 | University of Toronto
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy