Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Magnetic ’slinky effect’ may power aurora

17.01.2003


The spectacular aurora borealis displays that light up the northern nights could be powered by a gigantic "slinky" effect in Earth’s magnetic field lines, according to research performed at the University of Minnesota. Earth’s magnetic field resemble a slinky in that when "wiggled," it undulates in waves that travel down the field lines at speeds up to 25 million miles per hour. These waves can pass energy to electrons, accelerating them along the magnetic field lines toward Earth. When the electrons hit atoms in the atmosphere, the atoms become excited and produce the colors of the aurora. Using electric and magnetic field data and images from NASA’s POLAR satellite, the researchers showed that energy from such waves is sufficient to power auroras and that statistically, the waves occur in the same locations as auroras--in a ring around the poles. The work will be published in the Jan. 17 issue of Science.




"We don’t know exactly what wiggles the field lines, but similar processes could explain the heating of the solar corona [the sun’s atmosphere], the release of energy during solar flares and the acceleration of the solar wind [a stream of charged particles from the sun]," said physics associate professor John Wygant, second author of the study. "At the edges of sunspots, other researchers have actually seen magnetic field lines waving. Understanding how such waves are caused and how they transmit energy is important to unraveling the complex processes behind larger-scale particle accelerations that occur, for example, in jets of material being ejected from black holes at the centers of galaxies." The paper’s first author is Andreas Keiling, who headed the study while a doctoral student and, later, a research scientist at the University of Minnesota. He is now at the Center for Space Research on Radiation in Toulouse, France.

The ultimate source of energy for auroras is the solar wind. Flowing with the wind--which is mostly single protons and electrons--is a magnetic field that encounters Earth’s own field tens of thousands of miles above the planet surface. Earth is like a huge bar magnet, with magnetic field lines coming out near the poles, curving through space, and re-entering near the opposite pole. When the solar wind’s magnetic field sweeps by, it joins with some of Earth’s magnetic field lines and stretches them into space on the night side of Earth. The stretching energizes this part of the magnetic field until it suddenly "snaps" away from the solar wind and reconnects with Earth. This process, called reconnection, may send waves rippling through the magnetic field, like wiggling a slinky, said Wygant.


Energy from the waves then passes to electrons, sending them in beams along the magnetic field lines into the atmosphere. The color of the aurora depends on how deeply the electrons penetrate the atmosphere and which atoms they excite. Measurements of electrical energy at altitudes near 12,000 miles, where the electrons are accelerated, showed sufficient energy from the waves to power auroras, Wygant said.

Auroras also occur in south polar regions, where they are known as the aurora australis. Waves in the magnetic field lines are called Alfven waves, after Hannes Alfven, a Swedish physicist who helped found the field of plasma physics, said Wygant.

POLAR’s electric field measurements were performed by an instrument built by the University of California at Berkeley. Other authors of the paper are Cynthia Cattell, physics professor, University of Minnesota; Forrest Mozer, professor of physics, Berkeley; and Christopher Russell, professor of physics, UCLA. The work was supported by NASA.



POLAR satellite images of the auroral ring are at www1.umn.edu/urelate/newsservice/aurora.html.

Contacts:
John Wygant, (510) 642-7297 (Jan. 13 and 14), (612) 626-8921 (Jan. 15 and later)
Cynthia Cattell, (612) 626-8918 (until noon Jan. 15)
Andreas Keiling, 33 (0) 561 55 66 60 (Toulouse, France)
Deane Morrison, University News Service, (612) 624-2346


Deane Morrison | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umn.edu/
http://www1.umn.edu/urelate/newsservice/aurora.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht 558 million-year-old fat reveals earliest known animal
21.09.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

nachricht Glacial engineering could limit sea-level rise, if we get our emissions under control
20.09.2018 | European Geosciences Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

Im Focus: Finding Nemo's genes

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Astrophysicists measure precise rotation pattern of sun-like stars for the first time

21.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Brought to light – chromobodies reveal changes in endogenous protein concentration in living cells

21.09.2018 | Life Sciences

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>