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Portals To The Sun - Magnetic Reconnection - Flux Transfer Events and the Auroras


Portals To The Sun - Magnetic Reconnection - Flux Transfer Events and the Auroras

Until 2007, most scientists did not believe in this common phenomenon.
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ScienceCasts: Hidden Magnetic Portals Around Earth

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A NASA-sponsored researcher at the University of Iowa has developed a way for spacecraft to hunt down hidden magnetic portals in the vicinity of Earth. These portals link the magnetic field of our planet to that of the sun.


Oct. 30, 2008: During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn't believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page.

It's called a flux transfer event or 'FTE,' says space physicist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn't exist, but now the evidence is incontrovertible.

Indeed, today Sibeck is telling an international assembly of space physicists at the 2008 Plasma Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, that FTEs are not just common, but possibly twice as common as anyone had ever imagined.

Researchers have long known that the Earth and sun must be connected. Earth's magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet) is filled with particles from the sun that arrive via the solar wind and penetrate the planet's magnetic defenses. They enter by following magnetic field lines that can be traced from terra firma all the way back to the sun's atmosphere.

We used to think the connection was permanent and that solar wind could trickle into the near-Earth environment anytime the wind was active, says Sibeck. We were wrong. The connections are not steady at all. They are often brief, bursty and very dynamic.

Several speakers at the Workshop have outlined how FTEs form: On the dayside of Earth (the side closest to the sun), Earth's magnetic field presses against the sun's magnetic field. Approximately every eight minutes, the two fields briefly merge or reconnect, forming a portal through which particles can flow. The portal takes the form of a magnetic cylinder about as wide as Earth. The European Space Agency's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft and NASA's five THEMIS probes have flown through and surrounded these cylinders, measuring their dimensions and sensing the particles that shoot through. They're real, says Sibeck.

Now that Cluster and THEMIS have directly sampled FTEs, theorists can use those measurements to simulate FTEs in their computers and predict how they might behave. Space physicist Jimmy Raeder of the University of New Hampshire presented one such simulation at the Workshop. He told his colleagues that the cylindrical portals tend to form above Earth's equator and then roll over Earth's winter pole. In December, FTEs roll over the north pole; in July they roll over the south pole.

Sibeck believes this is happening twice as often as previously thought. I think there are two varieties of FTEs: active and passive. Active FTEs are magnetic cylinders that allow particles to flow through rather easily; they are important conduits of energy for Earth's magnetosphere. Passive FTEs are magnetic cylinders that offer more resistance; their internal structure does not admit such an easy flow of particles and fields. (For experts: Active FTEs form at equatorial latitudes when the IMF tips south; passive FTEs form at higher latitudes when the IMF tips north.) Sibeck has calculated the properties of passive FTEs and he is encouraging his colleagues to hunt for signs of them in data from THEMIS and Cluster. Passive FTEs may not be very important, but until we know more about them we can't be sure.

There are many unanswered questions: Why do the portals form every 8 minutes? How do magnetic fields inside the cylinder twist and coil? We're doing some heavy thinking about this at the Workshop, says Sibeck.

Meanwhile, high above your head, a new portal is opening, connecting your planet to the sun.


Magnetic Portals to the Sun

Nature is revealing more of its creation as we approach 2012. Take a look at what NASA located.

Shocking Nasa Admits Hidden Portals Opening Above Earth

NASA | X Marks the Spot: SDO Sees Reconnection

Two NASA spacecraft have provided the most comprehensive movie ever of a mysterious process at the heart of all explosions on the sun: magnetic reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection happens when magnetic field lines come together, break apart, and then exchange partners, snapping into new positions and releasing a jolt of magnetic energy. This process lies at the heart of giant explosions on the sun such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can fling radiation and particles across the solar system.

Magnetic field lines, themselves, are invisible, but the sun's charged plasma particles course along their length. Space telescopes can see that material appearing as bright lines looping and arcing through the sun's atmosphere, and so map out the presence of magnetic field lines.

Looking at a series of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), scientists saw two bundles of field lines move toward each other, meet briefly to form what appeared to be an X and then shoot apart with one set of lines and its attendant particles leaping into space and one set falling back down onto the sun.

To confirm what they were seeing, the scientists turned to a second NASA spacecraft, the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI). RHESSI collects spectrograms, a kind of data that can show where exceptionally hot material is present in any given event on the sun. RHESSI showed hot pockets of solar material forming above and below the reconnection point, an established signature of such an event. By combining the SDO and RHESSI data, the scientists were able to describe the process of what they were seeing, largely confirming previous models and theories, while revealing new, three-dimensional aspects of the process.

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Magnetohydrodynamic Tornadoes

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NASA data shows surfer shaped waves in near Earth space

The universe overflows with repeating patterns. From the smallest cells to the largest galaxies, scientists are often rewarded by observing similar patterns in vastly different places. One such pattern is the iconic surfer's waves seen on the ocean - a series of curled hills moving steadily in one direction. The shape has a simple cause. A fast fluid, say wind, moving past a slower one, say water, naturally creates this classic shape. Named Kelvin-Helmholtz waves in the late 1800s after their discoverers, these waves have since been discovered all over the universe: in clouds, in the atmospheres of other planets, and on the sun. Now two recently published papers highlight these shapely waves at the boundaries of near-Earth space.

Scientists want to understand the details of what happens at those boundaries because various events there can disturb our space environment. When strong enough, this space weather can interrupt our communications systems or electronics on board satellites. While scientists have occasionally spotted Kelvin-Helmholtz waves at this boundary before - giving scientists reason to wonder if they could enhance or enable such space weather—the new papers show the waves are much more common than expected. The second paper presents a case study describing a previously unobserved way in which the waves can be initiated. Together, the two sets of research suggest the waves may have more of an effect on our space environment than previously realized.

We have known before that Kelvin-Helmholtz waves exist at the boundaries of Earth's magnetic environment - but they were considered relatively rare and thought to only appear under specialized conditions, said Shiva Kavosi, a space scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, and first author on one of the papers, which appeared in Nature Communications on May 11, 2015. It turns out they can appear under any conditions and are much more prevalent than we thought. They're present 20% of the time.



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