Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Thousands of tons from the atmosphere lost into space annually

A Swedish and American science team has done new measurements, which show that thousands of tons of the Earth's atmosphere flows far out into space annually.

PhD student Erik Engwall of Uppsala University and the Swedish Institute of Space Physics led the study, which uses data from the European Cluster satellites and has just been published in Nature Geoscience.

The new observations show that the polar wind, a very dilute wind of hydrogen and oxygen, flows unimpeded to very high altitudes. The outflow has previously only been possible to study from satellites at low altitudes, so it was not clear if it actually continued far into space or if it spread out and soon returned to Earth. It is now clear that the particles are actually lost from Earth, as the Cluster measurements have followed them flow to an altitude of almost ten times the diameter of the Earth.

"The polar wind is no threat to the atmosphere", says study leader Erik Engwall, pointing out that an outflow of the magnitude observed will not make any dramatic change to our atmosphere even during the full expected lifetime of the solar system. But similar phenomena may be more important for other celestial bodies. "To understand how our atmosphere evolves is also important for understanding other atmospheres that can harbour life", adds Erik Engwall.

The discovery was made when the scientists tried to understand why the Cluster instrument provided by the Uppsala team seemed to give unrealistic results in space above the Earth's polar regions. "In regions of space where we expected to find very weak electric fields, we were surprised to find very strong fields in a direction that was just plain impossible", says Anders Eriksson, a scientist operating the Electric Fields and Waves instrument. By computer simulation, Erik Engwall could show that the unexpected results were due to the spacecraft encountering a supersonic wind of charged particles flowing away into space from the Earth's polar regions. The team could thus transform the apparent "measurement error" into a new method of observing the polar wind at unprecedented distances from the Earth. "In this region, the outflow was completely invisible to satellites until revealed by our new method", says Erik Engwall.

The paper "Earth's ionospheric outflow dominated by hidden cold plasma" by Erik Engwall, Anders Eriksson, Chris Cully, Mats André, Roy Torbert and Hans Vaith will appear in the January 2009 issue of Nature Geoscience, and was published online on 14 December. The results will also be presented at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Wednesday 17 December.

Cluster is a cornerstone project of the European Space Agency (ESA) and consists of four satellites, which have flown, in formation around the Earth since the summer of 2000. The Swedish Institute of Space Physics and the University of New Hampshire are responsible for two instruments measuring electric fields by very different methods on each of the satellites, and it was by comparing the two sets of results that the discovery was made. The Swedish group is financed by the Swedish National Space Board and the American group by NASA.

* Erik Engwall, PhD student, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University,, +46-70-765 9566.

* Anders Eriksson, scientist, Swedish Institute of Space Physics,, +46-18-471 5945, +46-70-171 3029.

* Mats André, professor, Swedish Institute of Space Physics,, +46-70-779 2072 (available at the AGU meeting in San Francisco).

Weitere Informationen:

Rick McGregor | idw
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>