Monday, June 02, 2008

Magnetosphere Mondays

An exciting way to start off the week: Astrophysicists at NASA have recently discovered that energetic protons from the plasmasphere control pressure in the earth's magnetosphere. The term magnetosphere (aside from sounding sinister), is used to describe the surrounding region of planets dominated by a magnetic field, like Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The discovery challenges the way most scientists previously thought about the magnetosphere, as being most affected by solar wind.

They used a model to stimulate superstorm plasmas (the above picture shows what the Earth's magnetosphere looks like during a superstorm), which are often caused by sporadic ejections of solar material from the sun. These coronal mass ejections send billions of tons of plasma shooting out of the sun and hurling towards the earth at high speeds (millions of miles per hour).

Superstorm plasma isn't without its consequences on Earth, usually in the form of awesome visual displays like the Northern Lights (pictured to the right, as seen from Bear Lake, Alaska). But more damaging effects of plasma include disruption of communications between airplanes and satellites traveling near the North Pole, and suspending global positioning system and power grid functions.

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