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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Magnetic Reconnection: Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) Mission

      "Most people do not give much thought to the Earth's magnetic field, yet it is every bit as essential to life as air, water and sunlight. The magnetic field provides an invisible, but crucial, barrier that protects Earth from the sun's magnetic field, which drives a stream of charged particles known as the solar wind outward from the sun's outer layers. The interaction between these two magnetic fields can cause explosive storms in the space near Earth, which can knock out satellites and cause problems here on Earth's surface, despite the protection offered by Earth's magnetic field."




      "A new study co-authored by University of Maryland physicists provides the first major results of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, including an unprecedented look at the interaction between the magnetic fields of Earth and the sun. The paper describes the first direct and detailed observation of a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection, which occurs when two opposing magnetic field lines break and reconnect with each other, releasing massive amounts of energy."




      "The discovery is a major milestone in understanding magnetism and space weather. The research paper appears in the May 13, 2016, issue of the journal Science."

     "Imagine two trains traveling toward each other on separate tracks, but the trains are switched to the same track at the last minute," said James Drake, a professor of physics at UMD and a co-author on the Science study. "Each track represents a magnetic field line from one of the two interacting magnetic fields, while the track switch represents a reconnection event. The resulting crash sends energy out from the reconnection point like a slingshot." 




      "Evidence suggests that reconnection is a major driving force behind events such as solar flares, coronal mass ejections, magnetic storms, and the auroras observed at both the North and South poles of Earth. Although researchers have tried to study reconnection in the lab and in space for nearly half a century, the MMS mission is the first to directly observe how reconnection happens."





     "The MMS mission provided more precise observations than ever before. Flying in a pyramid formation at the edge of Earth's magnetic field with as little as 10 kilometers' distance between four identical spacecraft, MMS images electrons within the pyramid once every 30 milliseconds. In contrast, MMS' predecessor, the European Space Agency and NASA's Cluster II mission, takes measurements once every three seconds--enough time for MMS to make 100 measurements."

     "Just looking at the data from MMS is extraordinary. The level of detail allows us to see things that were previously a blur," explained Drake, who served on the MMS science team and also advised the engineering team on the requirements for MMS instrumentation. "With a time interval of three seconds, seeing reconnection with Cluster II was impossible. But the quality of the MMS data is absolutely inspiring. It's not clear that there will ever be another mission quite like this one."





     "Simply observing reconnection in detail is an important milestone. But a major goal of the MMS mission is to determine how magnetic field lines briefly break, enabling reconnection and energy release to happen. Measuring the behavior of electrons in a reconnection event will enable a more accurate description of how reconnection works; in particular, whether it occurs in a neat and orderly process, or in a turbulent, stormlike swirl of energy and particles.

     "A clearer picture of the physics of reconnection will also bring us one step closer to understanding space weather--including whether solar flares and magnetic storms follow any sort of predictable pattern like weather here on Earth. Reconnection can also help scientists understand other, more energetic astrophysical phenomena such as magnetars, which are neutron stars with an unusually strong magnetic field.

        "Reconnection in Earth's magnetic field is relatively low energy, but we can get a good sense of what is happening if we extrapolate to more energetic systems," said Mark Swisdaku. "The edge of Earth's magnetic field is an excellent test lab, as it's just about the only place where we can fly a spacecraft directly through a region where reconnection occurs."




      "To date, MMS has focused only on the sun-facing side of Earth's magnetic field. In the future, the mission is slated to fly to the opposite side to investigate the teardrop-shaped tail of the magnetic field that faces away from the sun."

Quite exciting, eh?
Steph

29 comments:

  1. "The Panama Canal was dug with a microscope."

    -Ronald Ross, doctor and Nobel Prize laureate (1857-1932) [alluding to the research done to get rid of the mosquito (see this link.]

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    1. I wonder if a microscope (CRISPR-Cas9, etc.) can save the Rio Olympics? It feels like the CDC and other public health people here are hunkering down, anticipating this summer's skeeter season.

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    2. And perhaps the Summer Olympics will have to be run under a mosquito net.

      LegoTheThreatOfZikaVirusMakesBrazilAMalArea

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    3. Here's hoping concentrated research can make a difference for Zika in Brazil.

      Net sum!

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  2. Steph,


    As a mere "armchair scientist," I experience the earth's force of gravity as a constant companion (every time I step upon a scale of hoist a 16-pound sack of cat chow, for instance) but the earth's magnetic field is not-so-much on my radar.

    Last evening I composed a Puzzleria! puzzle comparing atoms to solar systems. I said that electromagnetic forces were what kept subatomic particles spinning and orbiting about their nuclei, in contrast to the gravitational forces at work in the heavens to keep celestial bodies spinning and rotating about their "stellar nuclei."
    I did not even stop to consider whatever, if any, effect the earth's magnetic field may have on these celestial clockworkings.

    I might have been able to write a more coherent and insightful (but yes, probably also more wordy!) puzzle had I visited PEOTS first!

    LegoLambdaArmoChairo

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    1. You explained that with great gravitas, Lego ;-)

      Will check out Puzzleria!

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  3. Speaking of magnetic field effects, I think I saw the Northern Lights last week, while flying from Newark to Dublin. About halfway through the flight, looking out the window on the left side of the plane, a vaguely curtain-like lightness in the sky. Not as impressive as videos I've seen, but I don't know what else it could have been.

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    1. I imagine it was. . .

      Business or pleasure or both in Dublin, jan?

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    2. Just an extended weekend of tourism, meeting up with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who are in London for now.

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    3. Oh, I'm back. As I said, it was just an extended weekend.

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    4. Gotcha. I thought you just flew over for this weekend.

      Some jet lag there, I expect.

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    5. That's why it took me so long to come up with "thermometer" over on that other blog. Busy converting Celsius to Fahrenheit....

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    6. jan,
      Don't they call it a thermumeter in Great Britain?

      LegOhThoseCrazyBrits!

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    7. Ixnay on the Itsbray in Dublin. We happened to be there on the Centenary of the Easter Rising (and for the election of a new Taoiseach.). Lots of commemorating going on.

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    8. Ok, had to look that up. What an interesting time to be there.

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    9. Hope you looked up the pronunciation, too. Quite a language!

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    10. Hey! Taoiseach! leave the kids alone!

      Well, that's enough dark sarcasm from me for today.

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    11. We toured Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, where many of the leaders of the 1916 Rising were imprisoned and executed. It reminded me of the British Mandate-era Russian Compound jail in Jerusalem that I saw many years ago, where Irgun and Stern Gang insurgents were kept. I imagine there are similar prison museums in India, South Africa, and elsewhere. Gotta credit the Canadians and Australians for gaining independence without bloodshed. Georges III, V, and VI could be trouble.

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    12. Say, jan, how was the show "Hamilton" a while back?

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    13. I'm not a theater person, but it was good. My wife regrets every minute she isn't spending seeing it again.

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  4. Pre-Disney humans hunted mastodons in Florida.

    First, we got rid of the mastodons. Now, through sea level rise, we're getting rid of Florida. (But I'm still not rooting for the mosquitoes.)

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    1. Why use the term "calendar year?" Seems a bit redundant to me.

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    2. Well, "colander year" would seem a bit strained. At least they didn't make us convert mastodon years to dog years. Maybe they meant "full years", as opposed to those "light years" we've heard of.

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    3. Maybe. I like "mya" for million years ago. Simple and easy to understand.

      No holes in that like colander years. . .

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  5. I posted this over at Puzzleria!, but thought I'd post it here as well. I realize we've got more pressing problems closer to home, but who wants to think about problems all the time?

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  6. "Searching" is the word of the day at PEOTS. Thanks for sharing the link, Paul.

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    Replies
    1. New post on "May 18, 1980: Where were you when Mt St Helens Exploded?" is now up.

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