On 24 January 2001, Cluster’s spacecraft observed shock reformation in the Earth’s magnetosphere, predicted only in theory, over 20 years ago. Cluster provided the first opportunity ever to observe such an event, the details of which have been published in a paper on 9 March this year.
The shock wave that sits above the Earth’s surface is a natural phenomenon. It is located on the side facing the Sun, at approximately one quarter of the distance to the Moon, and is caused by the flow of electrically charged particles from the Sun.
This flow of electrically charged particles known as solar wind is emitted in a gusty manner by the Sun. When it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field, it is abruptly slowed down and this causes a barrier of electrified gas, called the bow shock, to build up. It behaves in the same way as water being pushed out of the way by the front of a ship.
On 24 January 2001, the four Cluster spacecraft were flying at an approximate altitude of 105 000 kilometres, in tetrahedron formation. Each spacecraft was separated from the others by a distance of about 600 kilometres. With such a distance between them, as they approached the bow shock, scientists expected that every spacecraft would record a similar signature of the passage through this region.
Instead, the readings they got were highly contradictory. They showed large fluctuations in the magnetic and electric field surrounding each spacecraft. They also revealed marked variations in the number of solar wind protons that were reflected by the shock and streaming back to Sun.
“The features derived from three different scientific experiments on the Cluster satellites provide the first convincing evidence in favour of the shock reformation model,” says Vasili Lobzin of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Orléans, France, who headed this study.
Vladimir Krasnoselskikh, also of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Orléans, France, who is a collaborator on this new research, had predicted the shock reformation model theoretically in 1985. It is a little similar to the way waves in the ocean build up and then break onto the shore, only to reform again, some way out to sea.
The detection has implications for the way astronomers investigate larger bow shocks around distant celestial objects. Bow shocks are related to some of the most energetic events in the Universe. Exploding stars and strong stellar winds from young stars cause them. Reforming bow shocks can also accelerate particles to extremely high energies and throw them across space.
Although the conditions that cause the reformation of a shock wave are rare around the Earth, they are common around these other celestial objects. “In astrophysical situations, the conditions needed for the bow shock to overturn and reform is almost always met,” says Krasnoselskikh.
The fact that Cluster has given scientists their first concrete data from such a bow shock reformation event is a valuable gift to space physicists. “This is a unique opportunity to study distant astrophysical objects in the kind of detail not available in any laboratory,” says Krasnoselskikh.
Philippe Escoubet | alfa
First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles
13.07.2018 | Technische Universität München
Simpler interferometer can fine tune even the quickest pulses of light
12.07.2018 | University of Rochester
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...
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...
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...
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....
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...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
13.07.2018 | Life Sciences