Magnetic reconnection – a phenomenon by which magnetic fields lines get interconnected and reconfigure themselves - is a universal process in space that plays a key role in various astrophysical phenomena such as star formation, solar explosions or the entry of solar material within the Earth's environment. Reconnection has been observed at large-scale boundaries between different plasma environments such as the boundary between Earth and interplanetary space. Plasma is a gas composed of charged particles.
Our first line of defence against the incessant flow of solar particles, the Earth's magnetic field deflects most of this material around the Earth's magnetosphere. This is marked by a boundary layer called the magnetopause. As for any other planet which has a planetary magnetic field (for example Jupiter and Saturn), solar wind is decelerated from supersonic to subsonic speeds by a shock wave (called the 'bow shock') located in front of the magnetopause. The region between the bow shock and the magnetopause is called the magnetosheath.
One of the most turbulent environments in the near-Earth space, the terrestrial magnetosheath is an accessible laboratory to study in-situ turbulence, unlike the solar atmosphere or accretion disks. Characterising the properties of the magnetic turbulence in this region is of prime importance to understand its role in fundamental processes such as energy dissipation and particle acceleration.
Observing reconnection at small-scale boundaries in space requires simultaneous measurements by at least four spacecraft flying in close formation. With an inter-spacecraft distance of only 100 kilometres, on 27 March 2002 the four Cluster satellites observed reconnection within a very thin current 'sheet' embedded in the turbulent plasma with a typical size of about 100 kilometres.
A challenge for the instruments onboard, the observations show that the turbulent plasma is accelerated and heated during the reconnection process. This newly observed type of small-scale reconnection seems also to be associated with the acceleration of particles to energies much higher than their average which could explain, in part, the creation of high energy particles by the Sun.
To quote Alessandro Retinò, lead author of this study and PhD student at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Uppsala, Sweden, "we found reconnection in one single current sheet, so that in such an environment of irregular magnetic fields one may think that reconnection is sporadic, but this is not the case. For this particular magnetosheath crossing, a very large number of other thin current sheets was found where reconnection is very likely to occur, a subject currently under investigation by our team."
This discovery of reconnection in turbulent plasma has significant implications for the study of laboratory and astrophysical plasmas, where both turbulence and reconnection develop and thus where turbulent reconnection is very likely to occur. Possible applications range from the dissipation of magnetic energy in fusion devices on Earth to the understanding of the acceleration of high energy particles in solar explosions called solar flares.
"Magnetic reconnection, turbulence and shocks are three fundamental ingredients of the plasma Universe," says Philippe Escoubet Cluster and Double Star project scientist at ESA. "The detailed understanding of these key processes and their associated multi-scale physics is a challenge for the future of space physics. One of the lessons learned from Cluster is the need for new space missions equipped with instruments of higher sensitivity and better time resolution together with a larger number of satellites."
Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy