Watch: NASA Observes Spectacular Magnetic Light Show for the First Time

Monday, 16 May 2016 - 11:31AM
Space
Astrophysics
Monday, 16 May 2016 - 11:31AM
Watch: NASA Observes Spectacular Magnetic Light Show for the First Time
The magnetosphere surrounding Earth is active all the time, but since magnetic fields are invisible to the naked eye, NASA has previously had trouble observing magnetic phenomena. Now, the space agency has published their first findings from the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, and has captured magnetic reconnection in all of its glory:



Magnetic reconnection refers to the process by which stored magnetic energy is converted into heat and kinetic energy of charged particles. This occurs often in the magnetosphere, particularly when Earth's magnetic field comes into contact with the interplanetary magnetic field. But since magnetic fields are invisible, NASA has never been able to fully observe this phenomenon.

Magnetic Reconnection

So in March 2015, NASA sent four small spacecraft into the "invisible maelstrom" of magnetic reconnection. The identical ships fly in a pyramid formation, so they are able to create a three-dimensional map of all of the celestial phenomena they observe. As a result, NASA was able to create the above simulation of the spacecrafts' journey through a magnetic reconnection event right where the terrestrial magnetic field "bumps up against" the Sun's magnetic field. 

Magnetic Reconnection

This phenomenon had been predicted before MMS began its mission, but this is the first direct observation of the event. That would be exciting enough on its own, but NASA is also looking to apply these results to future space missions. Magnetic reconnection is one of the prime drivers of space radiation, for example, so understanding the exact nature of the event is crucial for keeping astronauts safe during long-term spaceflight.
Science
NASA
Space
Astrophysics

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