In a groundbreaking discovery made by a satellite of NASA, scientists have succeeded in observing a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. This process took place in the Earth’s outer atmosphere, in a particularly turbulent area. Fundamentally, the process serves to drive away a stream of plasma (charged particles) which is released from the Sun. It converts these charged particles into electrons of high speed.
The magnetic reconnection process takes place in the “magnetosheath”; belonging to the Earth’s outer atmosphere. The magnetosheath acts as Earth’s protective shield against strong solar winds.
The observations have dispelled long-standing doubts related to the dispersion of turbulent energy when it comes and strikes Earth’s magnetic field. This mission will also help in understanding the effect of this phenomenon on the Earth’s atmosphere. Solar winds have the potential to not only trigger magnetic storms but also disrupt communication and GPS satellites. These findings might far-reaching implications, even beyond our planet.
According to Michael Shay, University of Delaware, turbulence takes place all over in space; sun, supernova shocks, interstellar medium, nuclei jets, dynamos, solar winds, and, other instances. Magnetic reconnection has been observed on large scales, but researchers never knew whether it could take place in the magnetosheath. It happens right outside the magnetosphere’s outer boundary where solar winds are very turbulent.
According to Tai Phan, a researcher at the Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, the turbulence that occurs in the magnetosheath has a lot of magnetic energy. The method of energy dissipation has been heavily debated. Magnetic reconnection might be a possible way.
NASA is conducting a space weather mission by the name of Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft (MMS). Scientists are using data from this mission to prove that electron magnetic reconnection phenomena take place on a smaller scale in high-turbulence zones. MMS has four spacecraft which fly about four miles away from each other, collecting data on the go. These spacecraft have gathered evidence that reconnection was happening in the magnetosheath as well. However, the whole process in this incidence works differently as compared to another place.
Instead of ions, it creates electron jets which move 40 as fast as in the case of atoms. Using equipment capable of collecting data at speeds 100 times more than in the case of previous missions, this process could also be observed by using MMS.
This discovery is a boon for scientists, who are trying to understand the phenomenon whereby magnetic fields dispel their energy to the cosmos.