Feeds

Up close and personal with a leaking magnetosphere

Cosmic plumbing

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

You may or may not know that Earth's magnetosphere leaks. You might think it is therefore time to send for the intergalactic plumbers. And in a manner of speaking, that is what the European Space Agency has done, in collaboration with its counterparts in China.

Between them, the two groups have tracked the leak to its source: they have found where it is that solar particles are managing to sneak in through our magnetic shield. This solar material can be a threat to very expensive satellites, and to even more valuable astro/cosmonauts.

The venture involved the Chinese Double Star satellite, and ESA's four Cluster spacecraft, being in the right place, at the right time.

On May 8 2004, both sets of satellites found themselves in the firing line, ESA explains.

There was no unusual solar activity: no flares, coronal mass ejection or any other protuberances from the Sun. But for a period of six hours the Cluster spacecraft were hit every eight minutes by intense flows of electrically charged particles released by the Sun. The Double Star TC-1 spacecraft took an even harder pummelling, ESA explains, being blasted every four minutes for eight hours.

What happened was that a series of so-called magnetic flux tubes swept past the satellites again and again. These tubes are channels created by the merging of the Earth and Sun's magnetic fields.

One end of the tube is connected to Earth, and the other to the full force of the solar wind, and so they allow solar particles to penetrate the normally protective magnetosphere. When this happens, physicists say there has been a Flux Transfer Event. It is also known as magnetic reconnection.

The phenomenon has been known to exist for many years, but what is interesting about the day in May 2004, is that the same location underwent magnetic reconnection several times. And the satellites were there to watch it.

The data from the five spacecraft enabled scientists in France, led by Aurélie Marchaudon of the Université d'Orléans, to triangulate the location of the magnetic reconnection region, and to deduce its size.

They found that the reconnection site was on the daylight west side of the Earth's magnetic shield and was around 25000 kilometres across.

Later, Jean Berchem of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and his team, conducted computer simulations that confirmed the observational data. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
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?
Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management
How using vulnerability assessments to identify exploitable weaknesses and take corrective action can reduce the risk of hackers finding your site and attacking it.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.