Turbulent Discovery

The space near earth is full of mystery and hidden secrets, the more we try to explore, the more complexities we face. NASA’s satellites have discovered magnetic turbulence in the space near our planet. The MMS or Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft detected this magnetic activity is taking place near the earth’s space in a quite astonishing way.

The outer sphere of earth comprises charged particles called plasma, and the magnetosphere mostly deflects these highly charged particles. The magnetosphere is a protective magnetic field surrounding our planet. When the earth’s magnetic field absorbs this energy, these charged particles are stretched and snapped which leads to a release of power by the bursting of these particles. These particles can pose a threat to satellites, spacecraft, and astronauts in the space.   

This phenomenon is often seen in earth’s magnetosphere, under calm conditions, and is called magnetic reconnection. Latest pictures from MMS has revealed another aspect of this phenomenon. In the extremely turbulent form near the earth’s environment, this process named magnetosheath takes place.

The boundary between the magnetosphere and the solar wind called the magnetosheath has charged particles from the sun. This plasma near the most chaotic areas of the Earth’s Space is full of turbulence. This new type of magnetic environment in the plasma universe has initiated a different study. Tai Phan, from the University of California, stated that the two important phenomena in the plasma spaces are magnetic reconnection and turbulence, and these two bridged together is what we have discovered.

MMS was launched in 2015; it consists of four identical satellites orbiting the earth in a pyramid formation. The satellite pyramid is designed to capture a detailed view of magnetic reconnection than formerly available. Before this discovery, the researchers were not sure if magnetic reconnection even took place in the magnetosheath. The phenomenon looks different in different regions of the space as depicted by the 3D images captured by MMS. 

The standard reconnection occurs over an area of tens of thousands of miles while the newly discovered reconnection covers only a couple of miles. Studying these charged particles are crucial as these particles if properly understood, can allow us to find measures to protect our spacecraft, satellites etc. Also, by doing so, we may see a way to go deeper into space and someday maybe find a solution to tackle solar winds that keep us away from understanding the very nature of Sun.