Feeds

Earth's writhing magnetic field could aid fusion research

Null points for ESA's Cluster

The next step in data security

The European satellite constellation Cluster has reported a first - it has seen a region of the Earth's magnetic field spontaneously reconfiguring itself. As well as breaking new scientific ground, the findings could have a practical application for scientists working on new ways of generating energy.

In space, magnetic field are violent turbulent things - a world away from a familiar bar magnet. Different regions of magnetism behave something like large, plasma containing bubbles, ESA explains. When the bubbles are pushed together, the field lines can deform, then break and reconnect, forming a new, more stable arrangement.

The exact point of the reconnection is called the "null point", and until now, scientists have never been able to observe one.

The actual event happened way back in September 2001 somewhere in the Earth's magnetotail on the night-side of the planet. But the data take so long to process, it is only now that scientists can say with any confidence that they have hit the bullseye and found a null point.

The analysis, led by Dr Xiao from Chinese Academy of Sciences, revealed that the null point existed in a vortex structure about 500km across.

This was totally unexpected, as no previous observations or computer simulations have predicted the null point to have this size or configuration.

This process - magnetic reconnection - is thought to be behind some spectacular phenomena, such as the jets of material ejected from the poles of black holes, the solar flares our own sun produces, and even some of the aurorae in our atmosphere.

But this isn't all about pretty pictures: understanding the process could help researchers developing nuclear fusion technology. The magnetic reconnection events are known to make nuclear fusion rather unpredictable. Better understanding the processes could lead to better reactor design.

Earlier this year, Cluster researchers discovered that space is fizzing. Thousands of bubbles of superheated gas are created at the boundary between Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind, a constant stream of gas from the sun.

Initially the scientists though the bubbles, also known as density holes, were glitches in the instrumentation. "Inside" a bubble, the density of the gas drops by ten times, but the temperature soars from 100,000 degrees to 10,000,000 degrees.

Exactly how the bubbles are formed is not known, but the scientists suspect the shock wave where the solar wind hits our magnetic shield is creating the energy to drive them. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.