Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Five Spacecraft Join to Solve an Auroral Puzzle

20.05.2003

Five spacecraft have made a remarkable set of observations, leading to a breakthrough in understanding the origin of a peculiar and puzzling type of aurora. Seen as bright spots in Earth’s atmosphere and called "dayside proton auroral spots," they are now known to occur when fractures appear in the Earth’s magnetic field, allowing particles emitted from the Sun to pass through and collide with molecules in our atmosphere.

On March 18, 2002, a jet of energetic solar protons collided with the Earth’s atmosphere and created a bright "spot" seen by NASA’s IMAGE spacecraft, just as the European Space Agency’s (ESA) four Cluster spacecraft passed overhead and straight through the proton jet. This is the first time that a precise and direct connection between the proton jet and bright spot has been made, and it results from the simultaneous observations by Cluster and IMAGE. The results of the study are published May 21 in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, in a paper by Tai Phan of the University of California in Berkeley and 24 international colleagues.

Earth’s magnetic field acts as a shield, protecting the planet from the constant stream of tiny particles ejected by the Sun, known as the solar wind. The solar wind itself is a stream of hydrogen atoms, separated into their constituent protons and electrons. When electrons find routes into our atmosphere, they collide with and "excite" the atoms in the air. When these excited atoms release their energy, it is emitted as light, creating the glowing "curtains" we see as the aurora borealis in the far north and aurora australis in the far south. Dayside proton auroral spots are caused by protons "stealing" electrons from the atoms in our atmosphere.

An extensive analysis of the Cluster results has now shown that the region was experiencing a turbulent event known as "magnetic reconnection." Such a phenomenon takes place when the Earth’s usually impenetrable magnetic field fractures and has to find a new stable configuration. Until the field mends itself, solar protons leak through the gap and jet into Earth’s atmosphere, creating the dayside proton aurora.

Philippe Escoubet, ESA’s Cluster Project Scientist, comments, "Thanks to Cluster’s observations, scientists can directly and firmly link for the first time a dayside proton auroral spot and a magnetic reconnection event."

Tai Phan, leader of the investigation, now looks forward to a new way of studying the Earth’s protective shield. He says, "This result has opened up a new area of research. We can now watch dayside proton aurorae and use those observations to know where and how the cracks in the magnetic field are formed and how long the cracks remain open. That makes it a powerful tool to study the entry of the solar wind into the Earth’s magnetosphere."

Proton auroras were globally imaged for the first time by NASA’s IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration) spacecraft, which revealed the presence of dayside proton auroral spots. ESA’s Cluster is a collection of four spacecraft, launched on two Russian rockets during the summer of 2000. They fly in formation around the Earth, relaying the most detailed information ever about how the solar wind affects the planet.

The principal investigators for the instruments in the current study were Henri Reme of CESR/Toulouse, France (Cluster Proton Detectors), Andre Balogh of Imperial College, London, United Kingdom (Cluster Magnetic Field Instrument), and Stephen Mende of University of California, Berkeley (IMAGE/FUV).

The current study was funded by NASA and other organizations.

Harvey Leifert | AGU
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Meteor magnets in outer space
27.05.2019 | University of California - Riverside

nachricht Colliding lasers double the energy of proton beams
27.05.2019 | Chalmers University of Technology

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: Colliding lasers double the energy of proton beams

Researchers from Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg present a new method which can double the energy of a proton beam produced by laser-based particle accelerators. The breakthrough could lead to more compact, cheaper equipment that could be useful for many applications, including proton therapy.

Proton therapy involves firing a beam of accelerated protons at cancerous tumours, killing them through irradiation. But the equipment needed is so large and...

Im Focus: New studies increase confidence in NASA's measure of Earth's temperature

A new assessment of NASA's record of global temperatures revealed that the agency's estimate of Earth's long-term temperature rise in recent decades is accurate to within less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, providing confidence that past and future research is correctly capturing rising surface temperatures.

The most complete assessment ever of statistical uncertainty within the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) data product shows that the annual values...

Im Focus: The geometry of an electron determined for the first time

Physicists at the University of Basel are able to show for the first time how a single electron looks in an artificial atom. A newly developed method enables them to show the probability of an electron being present in a space. This allows improved control of electron spins, which could serve as the smallest information unit in a future quantum computer. The experiments were published in Physical Review Letters and the related theory in Physical Review B.

The spin of an electron is a promising candidate for use as the smallest information unit (qubit) of a quantum computer. Controlling and switching this spin or...

Im Focus: Self-repairing batteries

UTokyo engineers develop a way to create high-capacity long-life batteries

Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...

Im Focus: Quantum Cloud Computing with Self-Check

With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.

Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

AI and high-performance computing extend evolution to superconductors

27.05.2019 | Information Technology

Meteor magnets in outer space

27.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Coat of proteins makes viruses more infectious and links them to Alzheimer's disease

27.05.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>