Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cluster opens a new window on ‘magnetic reconnection’ in the near-Earth space

13.03.2007
Plasma physicists have made an unprecedented measurement in their study of the Earth's magnetic field. Thanks to ESA's Cluster satellites they detected an electric field thought to be a key element in the process of 'magnetic reconnection'.

Thanks to these measurements, obtained by the eight PEACE electron sensors onboard the four spacecraft, scientists now have their first insight into magnetic reconnection's detailed behaviour.

Magnetic reconnection is a process that can occur almost anywhere that a magnetic field is found. In a reconnection event, the magnetic field lines are squeezed together somehow and spontaneously reconfigure themselves. This releases energy. When it occurs near the surface of the Sun, such an event powers giant solar flares that can release thousands of millions of tonnes of electrically charged particles into space.

The Earth's magnetic field creates a buffer zone, the magnetosphere, between our planet's atmosphere and the particles released during these eruptions. The Sun also releases a steadier flow of charged particles called the solar wind. On the large-scale, any heading this way buffet the magnetosphere, and are deflected by it. Plasma physicists describe this behaviour with a theory called 'magneto-hydrodynamics' (MHD).

On smaller scales, however, the picture becomes rather more complicated. The particles can actually flow across the magnetic field lines.This makes the mathematics of the behaviour more difficult. First to misbehave are the ions (positively charged particles). These break away from simple MHD on scales of less than a few hundred kilometres. On even smaller scales, less than 10 kilometres, the electrons (negatively charged particles) begin playing by other rules, too.

The new Cluster measurements reveal the electric field on the scale of a few hundred kilometres. "This is the first ever measurement of this term," says Paul Henderson, from University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UK, who led the investigation.

On 17 August 2003, Cluster was flying high above the night-time hemisphere of the Earth with an average separation of 200 kilometres between spacecraft. Data from several instruments shows that at 18:00 CET, a reconnection event took place and swept across the spacecraft.

Using data from Cluster's Plasma Electron and Current Experiment (PEACE) Henderson and collaborators calculated the pressure of electrons at each spacecraft and then calculated the difference between them and the variation with time. Using these quantities they calculated the electric field present near a reconnection site.

"This is an impossible calculation to make without four spacecraft," says Henderson. Now that the scientists can calculate the electric field in such a way, they have a new window into the process of magnetic reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection within Earth's magnetosphere regularly takes place on the night-time side of our planet, where the flow of the solar wind stretches out the magnetic field into a long tail. When the field reconnects in this region, it triggers jets of energetic particles that can cause auroral lights but can also damage satellites.

This new Cluster result takes scientists a step closer to seeing the precise details of magnetic reconnection. "When you think that the magnetosphere stretches over a million kilometres through space, we are actually looking at a minuscule part of it," says Henderson.

And that's exactly what plasma scientists want – the microphysics.

Philippe Escoubet | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMZN9Q11ZE_index_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication
16.07.2018 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Theorists publish highest-precision prediction of muon magnetic anomaly
16.07.2018 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nano-kirigami: 'Paper-cut' provides model for 3D intelligent nanofabrication

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

New players, standardization and digitalization for more rail freight transport

16.07.2018 | Transportation and Logistics

Researchers discover natural product that could lead to new class of commercial herbicide

16.07.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>