NASA Takes Help of MMS to Decode Secrets of Magnetosphere with Elusive Electron Act, Watch Video


Earth is surrounded by a region called magnetosphere where magnetic field lines flow. The region is extremely important for the existence of life on Earth as it protects us from Sun’s Corona discharge and performs several other essential tasks. Charged Particles, especially the high-energy electrons follow the magnetic field lines just like tiny tightrope walkers, but on some occasions, these particles cross each others path and collide; presenting a stunning show when seen from specific instruments. We cannot see the event known as magnetic reconnection through naked eyes. But scientists at the US space agency NASA can see them with Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission or MMS.

With the help of MMS, scientists can see invisible magnetic forces and pirouetting particles that can impact our technology on Earth. New research uses MMS data to improve understanding of how electrons move through this complex region — information that will help untangle how such particle acrobatics affect Earth.

While examining the data, scientists have found that electrons move in rocking motions when they are in accelerated motion near the edge of the magnetosphere. Scientists mark it as a key to understanding one of the mysteries of the magnetosphere: How does the magnetic energy seething through the area get converted to kinetic energy — that is, the energy of particle motion. Such information is important to protect technology on Earth, since particles that have been accelerated to high energies can at their worst cause power grid outages and GPS communications dropouts.

New research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, found a novel way to help locate regions where electrons are accelerated. Until now, scientists looked at low-energy electrons to find these accelerations zones, but a group of scientists lead by Matthew Argall of the University of New Hampshire in Durham has shown it’s possible, and in fact easier, to identify these regions by watching high-energy electrons.

This research is only possible with the unique design of MMS, which uses four spacecraft flying in a tight tetrahedral formation to give high temporal and spatial resolution measurements of the magnetic reconnection region.

“We’re able to probe very small scales and this helps us to really pinpoint how energy is being converted through magnetic reconnection,” Argall said.

The results will make it easier for scientists to identify and study these regions, helping them explore the microphysics of magnetic reconnection and better understand electrons’ effects on Earth.

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