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Earth, Earth Observation

Magnetic “Ropes” Connect the Northern Lights to the Solar Wind

21 Dec , 2007 by

This discovery comes just in time to light up Christmas: new observations of the Northern Lights – a spectacular phenomenon that lights up the night sky – show them to be more intricate than previously thought.

The Northern Lights were observed by NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS), a system of ground cameras and five orbiting micro-satellites that work in combination to observe the phenomenon better than with a single satellite. This allowed scientists to map and understand the mechanisms of the Northern Lights better than before by giving them a 3D picture of the events.

The Northern Lights or “Aurora Borealis” occur when charged particles coming from the Sun interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. THEMIS found evidence that there are magnetic “ropes” — long, wound magnetic field lines that resemble the braids of a rope – connecting the Earth’s magnetic field with the solar wind. Particles are channeled through these ropes, which last a short time, and are focused in certain regions, boosting the energy of the Aurora Borealis.

“THEMIS encountered its first magnetic rope on May 20,” said David Sibeck, project scientist for the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. “It was very large, about as wide as Earth, and located approximately 40,000 miles (70,000 km) above Earth’s surface in a region called the magnetopause.”

The magnetopause is where the Earth’s magnetic field meets the solar wind.

Electromagnetic explosions were also observed by THEMIS at the bow shock of the Earth’s magnetic field. The bow shock is where the magnetosphere bunches up as the Earth travels through space, kind of like how the waves in the front of a boat moving through the water are closer together than those behind the boat.

Sibeck said of the explosions,”It is where the solar wind first feels the effects of Earth’s magnetic field. Sometimes a burst of electrical current within the solar wind will hit the bow shock and – Bang! We get an explosion.”

The results were presented at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco this month. THEMIS will continue to observe the Aurora Borealis over the next two years, taking measurements of ions, electrons and electromagnetic radiation in space. Scientists from the US, Canada, Western Europe, Russia and Japan are contributing to the study of Earth’s own Christmas lights.

Original Source: NASA Press Release

By
I started writing for Universe Today in September 2007, and have loved every second of it since! Astronomy and science are fascinating for me to learn and write about, and it makes me happy to share my passion for science with others. In addition to the science writing, I'm a full-time bicycle mechanic and the two balance nicely, as I get to work with my hands for part of the day, and my head the other part (some of the topics are a stretch for me to wrap my head around, too!).


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Wiley "Chip" White
Guest
Wiley "Chip" White
December 21, 2007 11:50 PM

Has there been any consideration of the magnetic ropes correlating to the “sprites” seen above the earths atmosphere during certain large thunder storms with major electrical activity?

Tony Trenton
Member
Tony Trenton
December 22, 2007 2:53 AM

Well it is about time we found out how to tap into this free energy. It’s a long time since the genius Nicholas Tesler theorised such a source.

What research is going on in this field?

We’d better be careful that we don’t make the Earth glow.

robert Bucettas
Guest
robert Bucettas
December 22, 2007 8:17 AM

moving magnetic fields create an electric field. What is the electric field in the auroua doing? is there any lightning ? is lack of oxygen a factor?

WScott
Guest
WScott
December 22, 2007 2:01 PM
Dear Tony Trenton, Whoa there! First, the man’s name was Nikola Tesla. Second, Tesla didn’t theorize such a source. He didn’t theorize, he engineered. He extracted “free energy” from the ground differential against an elevated freestanding conductor–but application was impractical as the output . He invented radio. He developed distance conduction of electricity via alternating current. And last, please note that we are surrounded by free energy. Sunlight, wind, and geothermal energy are pure, free energy. But even with these well-developed technologies, the problem is in efficiently and economically harnessing the free energy. The magnetic “ropes” which connect the solar winds to the Auroras are, please note, 40,000 miles above the surface of the Earth. The Space Shuttles… Read more »
Igor
Guest
Igor
December 22, 2007 4:00 PM

Geothermal energy has not been proven as
renewable- nobody knows if in the Earth there
is still the radioactive decay to power it or if
all we have is the residual heat which can run out. As for the solar wind- that energy
could be gathered by ships relying on electromagnetic solar sail propulsion to fly
in space and fitted with massive litium ion
polymer battery packs- if you can get such
a ship to fly

Bill Davis
Guest
Bill Davis
December 26, 2007 9:34 AM

My computer is mysteriously getting powered by charged particles channeled through magnetic ropes under my desk. What gives?

John Mendenhall
Member
John Mendenhall
December 26, 2007 10:16 AM

Be careful where you put your feet. It is easy to disconnect the magentic ropes.

John Mendenhall
Member
John Mendenhall
December 26, 2007 10:17 AM

Love that typo. Let it stand.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
December 27, 2007 8:20 AM

Geothermal power has not been proven to be renewable?? Huh??? Even if we were simply living on residual heat it will last for thousands if not millions of years.

Iceland has been generating electricity from geothermal well for at least a hundred years.

John Mendenhall
Member
John Mendenhall
December 27, 2007 10:26 AM

True, Kevin. I had a geologist for a neighbor who worked at a geothermal plant. They had trouble from their accountants because they could not get any depletion allowance like the oil and coal industries. It just goes on, and on, and on.

sail4evr
Member
sail4evr
January 5, 2008 6:20 AM

If you think we might run out of geothermal energy, you better go plug up all those volcanoes becasue they sure are bleeding off a lot of it and it doesn’t look to me like they are about to run out of energy..

Michael Gmirkin
Guest
Michael Gmirkin
September 5, 2008 6:17 PM
Bill Davis Says: My computer is mysteriously getting powered by charged particles channeled through magnetic ropes under my desk. What gives? ———- Thank you Bill! Priceless… You appear to “get it!” About time someone did… All I can say is: “Flux Ropes Power the Magnetosphere! THEMIS discovered a flux rope pumping a 650,000 Amp current into the Arctic. ” And it’s not just me, that’s NASA’s own words on their multimedia page accompanying the release. I’d post the link, but the site would eat the comment as SPAM. How sad that people aren’t allowed to post reference links to backup their statements. Google: NASA New Discoveries Northern lights One of the NASA pages that comes up should take… Read more »
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