Astronomers Gain New Insight Into Magnetic Field Of Sun And Its Kin

Astronomers have used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to make a discovery that may have profound implications for understanding how the magnetic field in the Sun and stars like it are generated.

sun

Researchers have discovered that four old red dwarf stars with masses less than half that of the Sun are emitting X-rays at a much lower rate than expected.

X-ray emission is an excellent indicator of a star’s magnetic field strength so this discovery suggests that these stars have much weaker magnetic fields than previously thought.

Since young stars of all masses have very high levels of X-ray emission and magnetic field strength, this suggests that the magnetic fields of these stars weakened over time. While this is a commonly observed property of stars like our Sun, it was not expected to occur for low-mass stars, as their internal structure is very different.

The Sun and stars like it are giant spheres of superheated gas. The Sun’s magnetic field is responsible for producing sunspots, its 11-year cycle, and powerful eruptions of particles from the solar surface. These solar storms can produce spectacular auroras on Earth, damage electrical power systems, knock out communications satellites, and affect astronauts in space.

“We have known for decades that the magnetic field on the Sun and other stars plays a huge role in how they behave, but many details remain mysterious,” said lead author Nicholas Wright of Keele University in the United Kingdom. “Our result is one step in the quest to fully understand the Sun and other stars.”

The rotation of a star and the flow of gas in its interior both play a role in producing its magnetic field. The rotation of the Sun and similar stars varies with latitude (the poles versus the equator) as well as in depth below the surface. Another factor in the generation of magnetic field is convection. Similar to the circulation of warm air inside an oven, the process of convection in a star distributes heat from the interior of the star to its surface in a circulating pattern of rising cells of hot gas and descending cooler gas.

Convection occurs in the outer third (by radius) of the Sun, while the hot gas closer to the core remains relatively still. There is a difference in the speed of rotation between these two regions. Many astronomers think this difference is responsible for generating most of the magnetic field in the Sun by causing magnetic fields along the border between the convection zone and the core to wind up and strengthen. Since stars rotate more slowly as they age, this also plays a role in how the magnetic field of such stars weakens with time.

“In some ways you can think of the inside of a star as an incredibly complicated dance with many, many dancers,” said co-author Jeremy Drake of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “Some dancers move with each other while others move independently. This motion generates magnetic field, but how it works in detail is extremely challenging to determine.”

For stars much less massive than the Sun, convection occurs all the way into the core of the star. This means the boundary between regions with and without convection, thought to be crucial for generating magnetic field in the Sun, does not exist. One school of thought has been that magnetic field is generated mostly by convection in such stars. Since convection does not change as a star ages, their magnetic fields would not weaken much over time.

By studying four of these low-mass red dwarf stars in X-rays, Wright and Drake were able to test this hypothesis. They used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to study two of the stars and data from the ROSAT satellite to look at two others.

“We found that these smaller stars have magnetic fields that decrease as they age, exactly as it does in stars like our Sun,” said Wright. “This really goes against what we would have expected.”

These results imply that the interaction along the convection zone-core boundary does not dominate the generation of magnetic field in stars like our Sun, since the low mass stars studied by Wright and Drake lack such a region and yet their magnetic properties are very similar.

A paper describing these results by Wright and Drake appears in the July 28th issue of the journal Nature. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Breaking News: Is Earth’s Atmosphere Leaking?

A new study was released over the weekend stating Earth’s atmosphere is leaking. It is presented as if this is a new phenomena just learned and the researchers delivery paints a picture of scientists running around frantically as if they are huddled together thinking to themselves “oh shiet, we must plug the hole….”

Earth_Atmosphere_Leaking1_m

Here’s the fact: the Earth’s atmosphere has always been “leaking” – sometimes more than others. Once again, it truly is the Science of Cycles that wins the day. The question really at hand here is; what is the cause of these cyclical expansion and contraction periods? For those of you who have been following my work already know the answer. But of course there are always new people discovering ScienceOfCycles.com so I must present where my research leads us. Now I am very happy to say, it is not just my research but several other recently published papers from Universities and governmental agencies have also discovered this new awareness of cycles that extend to our galaxy Milky Way and beyond.

Our home Earth, protects us from most seriously dangerous radiation and electrical surges. It does so by creating a magnetic field which is produced through the geodynamic process of convection in the outer cores liquid iron producing currents.

sun_magnetic_field_magnetic_core

What we are witnessing today, is Earth’s natural ability to maintain its ambient rotation and orbital balance. Currently, the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, which therefore allows a greater amount of charged particles and plasma to enter our atmosphere. As a result, Earth’s core begins to overheat. As a way to expend this overheating, Earth produces more mantle plumes which works their way up through the upper mantle, advances into the asthenoshpere, extends through the lithosphere, and breaks through the crust. This process markedly resembles that of humans  when become overheated ‘sweat’ through their pores cooling the body.

The opposite occurs when the Earth’s core becomes slightly too cool, then mantle plumes dissipate, oceans and atmosphere begin to cool and temperatures may fluctuate and lower…then the cycle starts all over again. The time period between these warming and cooling trends do in fact vary, however, they do maintain short-term, moderate, and long-term cycles. This could be 11 year, 100 year, 1000 year and etc.

I have no illusion of my work being recognized by the major world space agencies, I do not have the pedigree nor do I have some form of contractual agreement with them. However, I have been able to maintain my connection with some of the brightest scientists who do in fact work for said agencies and Universities. Some might call me a colleague, others I surely call my mentors. There will be a time in the not to distant future when you will see my 2012 Equation being announced to the public. But it will not be my name attached to this new discovery. I can assure you it will be one from our government space agency, or Europe or Netherlands. All of which is truly fine with me. And if it’s one with whom I have been working with, I will clap the loudest.

_new_equation 2012

Before I go on, I hope you will see this new release ties in with the last five or so released scientific papers. From my point of view they all point to the same direction. (see 2012 Equation)

(NASA) Earth’s atmosphere is leaking. Every day, around 90 tons of material escapes from our planet’s upper atmosphere and streams out into space. Although missions such as ESA’s Cluster fleet have long been investigating this leakage, there are still many open questions. How and why is Earth losing its atmosphere – and how is this relevant in our hunt for lie elsewhere in the Universe?

Given the expanse of our atmosphere, 90 tons per day amounts to a small leak. Earth’s atmosphere weighs in at around five quadrillion (5 × 1015) tons so we are in no danger of running out any time soon.

ESO_IllustrationJune09

We have been exploring Earth’s magnetic environment for years using satellites such as ESA’s Cluster mission, a fleet of four spacecraft launched in 2000. Cluster has been continuously observing the magnetic interactions between the Sun and Earth for over a decade and half; this longevity, combined with its multi-spacecraft capabilities and unique orbit, have made it a key player in understanding both Earth’s leaking atmosphere and how our planet interacts with the surrounding Solar System.

Earth’s magnetic field is complex; it extends from the interior of our planet out into space, exerting its influence over a region of space dubbed the magnetosphere.

The magnetosphere – and its inner region (the plasmasphere), a doughnut-shaped portion sitting atop our atmosphere, which co-rotates with Earth and extends to an average distance of 12,427 miles (20,000 km) – is flooded with charged particles and ions that are trapped, bouncing back and forth along field lines.

magnetosphere66

At its outer sunward edge, the magnetosphere meets the solar wind, a continuous stream of charged particles – mostly protons and electrons – flowing from the Sun. Here, our magnetic field acts like a shield, deflecting and rerouting the incoming wind as a rock would obstruct a stream of water. This analogy can be continued for the side of Earth further from the Sun – particles within the solar wind are sculpted around our planet and slowly come back together, forming an elongated tube (named the magneto-tail), which contains trapped sheets of plasma and interacting field lines.

However, our magnetosphere shield does have its weaknesses; at Earth’s poles the field lines are open, like those of a standard bar magnet (these locations are named the polar cusps). Here, solar wind particles can head inwards towards Earth, filling up the magnetosphere with energetic particles.

Just as particles can head inwards down these open polar lines, particles can also head outwards. Ions from Earth’s upper atmosphere – the ionosphere, which extends to roughly 621 miles (1000 km) above the Earth – also flood out to fill up this region of space. Although missions such as Cluster have discovered much, the processes involved remain unclear.

cluster_electrons

“The question of plasma transport and atmospheric loss is relevant for both planets and stars, and is an incredibly fascinating and important topic. Understanding how atmospheric matter escapes is crucial to understanding how life can develop on a planet,” said Arnaud Masson, ESA’s Deputy Project Scientist for the Cluster mission. “The interaction between incoming and outgoing material in Earth’s magnetosphere is a hot topic at the moment; where exactly is this stuff coming from? How did it enter our patch of space?”

Initially, scientists believed Earth’s magnetic environment to be filled purely with particles of solar origin. However, as early as the 1990s it was predicted that Earth’s atmosphere was leaking out into the plasmasphere – something that has since turned out to be true. Given the expanse of our atmosphere, 90 tons per day amounts to a small leak. Earth’s atmosphere weighs in at around five quadrillion (5 × 1015) tons so we are in no danger of running out any time soon.

Observations have shown sporadic, powerful columns of plasma, dubbed plumes, growing within the plasmasphere, travelling outwards to the edge of the magnetosphere and interacting with solar wind plasma entering the magnetosphere.

More recent studies have unambiguously confirmed another source – Earth’s atmosphere is constantly leaking! Alongside the aforementioned plumes, a steady, continuous flow of material (comprising oxygen, hydrogen and helium ions) leaves our planet’s plasmasphere from the polar regions, replenishing the plasma within the magnetosphere. Cluster found proof of this wind, and has quantified its strength for both overall (reported in a paper published in 2013) and for hydrogen ions in particular (reported in 2009).

bowshock-drives-magnetosphere.

Overall, about 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of material is escaping our atmosphere every second, amounting to almost 90 tons per day. Singling out just cold ions (light hydrogen ions, which require less energy to escape and thus possess a lower energy in the magnetosphere), the escape mass totals thousands of tons per year.

Cold ions are important; many satellites – Cluster excluded – cannot detect them due to their low energies, but they form a significant part of the net matter loss from Earth, and may play a key role in shaping our magnetic environment.

Solar storms and periods of heightened solar activity appear to speed up Earth’s atmospheric loss significantly, by more than a factor of three. However, key questions remain: How do ions escape, and where do they originate? What processes are at play, and which is dominant? Where do the ions go? And how?

One of the key escape processes is thought to be centrifugal acceleration, which speeds up ions at Earth’s poles as they cross the shape-shifting magnetic field lines there. These ions are shunted onto different drift trajectories, gain energy and end up heading away from Earth into the magneto-tail, where they interact with plasma and return to Earth at far higher speeds than they departed with – a kind of boomerang effect.

cluster_observes_all_areas

Such high-energy particles can pose a threat to space-based technology, so understanding them is important. Cluster has explored this process multiple times during the past decade and a half – finding it to affect heavier ions such as oxygen more than lighter ones, and detecting strong, high-speed beams of ions rocketing back to Earth from the magneto-tail nearly 100 times over the course of three years.

More recently, scientists have explored the process of magnetic reconnection, one of the most efficient physical processes by which the solar wind enters Earth’s magnetosphere and accelerates plasma. In this process, plasma interacts and exchanges energy with magnetic field lines; different lines reconfigure themselves, breaking, shifting around and forging new connections by merging with other lines, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process.

Here, the cold ions are thought to be important. We know that cold ions affect the magnetic reconnection process, for example slowing down the reconnection rate at the boundary where the solar wind meets the magnetosphere (the magnetopause), but we are still unsure of the mechanisms at play.

“In essence, we need to figure out how cold plasma ends up at the magnetopause,” said Philippe Escoubet, ESA’s Project Scientist for the Cluster mission. “There are a few different aspects to this; we need to know the processes involved in transporting it there, how these processes depend on the dynamic solar wind and the conditions of the magnetosphere, and where plasma is coming from in the first place – does it originate in the ionosphere, the plasmasphere, or somewhere else?”

Recently, scientists modeled and simulated Earth’s magnetic environment with a focus on structures known as plasmoids and flux ropes – cylinders, tubes, and loops of plasma that become tangled up with magnetic field lines. These arise when the magnetic reconnection process occurs in the magnetotail and ejects plasmoids both towards the outer tail and towards Earth.

Cold ions may play a significant role in deciding the direction of the ejected plasmoid. These recent simulations showed a link between plasmoids heading towards Earth and heavy oxygen ions leaking out from the ionosphere – in other words, oxygen ions may reduce and quench the reconnection rates at certain points within the magneto-tail that produce tail-ward trajectories, thus making it more favorable at other sites that instead send them Earthwards. These results agree with existing Cluster observations.

Another recent Cluster study compared the two main atmospheric escape mechanisms Earth experiences – sporadic plumes emanating through the plasmasphere, and the steady leakage of Earth’s atmosphere from the ionosphere – to see how they might contribute to the population of cold ions residing at the dayside magnetopause (the magnetosphere-solar wind boundary nearest the Sun).

interplanetary_magnetic_field5

Both escape processes appear to depend in different ways on the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF), the solar magnetic field that is carried out into the Solar System by the solar wind. This field moves through space in a spiraling pattern due to the rotation of the Sun, like water released from a lawn sprinkler. Depending on how the IMF is aligned, it can effectively cancel out part of Earth’s magnetic field at the magnetopause, linking up and merging with our field and allowing the solar wind to stream in.

Plumes seem to occur when the IMF is oriented southward (anti-parallel to Earth’s magnetic field, thus acting as mentioned above). Conversely, leaking outflows from the ionosphere occur during northward-oriented IMF. Both processes occur more strongly when the solar wind is either denser or travelling faster (thus exerting a higher dynamic pressure).

charged_particles2

“While there is still much to learn, we’ve been able to make great progress here,” said Masson. “These recent studies have managed to successfully link together multiple phenomena – namely the ionospheric leak, plumes from the plasmasphere, and magnetic reconnection – to paint a better picture of Earth’s magnetic environment. This research required several years of ongoing observation, something we could only get with Cluster.”

 

 

JUST IN: Released Today, New Finding May Play Integral Role for Monitoring Earth’s Magnetic Flip

This is not the first time of such a rapid new discovery is published within days of an article I produced outlining my hypothesis and what is likely to come next.  Just two days ago I sent out my article titled New Study Reinforces Cyclical Magnetic Pole Reversals telling of the various descriptive patterns which have been shown to fit short and long term reversal cycles.

earth-magnetic-field-neutron field-diagram5

In an upcoming article later this week, I will describe signs and symptoms during the process of a full magnetic reversal which fits the pattern of historic cycles over what would be described as a ‘moderate’ time period, geologically speaking, covering a few hundred thousand years. There is also a longer term cycle which covers a few million years; however, there is also a short term cycle which occurs approximately every 40,000 years.

Magnetic_Reversal_Process_m
Snapshots spaced about 2 kyr apart during a rapid magnetic polarity reversal from a numerical dynamo. Top sequence shows the evolution of the intensity of the radial component of the magnetic field on the core-mantle boundary (CMB). Red contours indicate radially outward-directed magnetic field; blue contours indicate radially inward-directed magnetic field, with continental outlines shown for reference. Middle two sequences show the evolution of magnetic field lines within the core, color-coded according to their polarity (i.e., orientation) in the equatorial plane, with northward oriented magnetic field indicated by blue-colored field lines, and magnetic field pointing toward the south indicated by red-colored field lines. The bottom sequence shows the major vortices in the outer core, with red indicating positive (cyclonic) and blue indicating negative (anticyclonic) vorticity, respectively. Credit: Peter Olson – Johns Hopkins University

What I believe to be one of the most important questions, or should be, where in this current cycle are we today? My research covering the galaxy-sun-solar system connection which involves the discovery of various term cyclical events, suggests we are far along the process with just a few decades away from a significant excursion or full reversal.

I would suggest we are deep into the cycle, and perhaps far enough along to witness (and sense) magnetic north bouncing around the northern hemisphere above 60° latitude and swing down between 30° east and 30° west longitudes. Perhaps a most intriguing thought, is the idea that many of you are young enough to witness a phase of pronounced swings in both latitude and longitude within the next 50-60 years.

Mitch Battros 2012 Equation

In today’s news, the discovery of two massive mantle plumes, residing on opposite sides of our planet. They sit next to or directly on the inner core approximately 1,800 miles (2,896 km) deep. This would be just the type of massive plume which could create a wobble as it goes through its natural process of convection.

Arizona State University scientists Edward Garnero, Allen McNamara and Sang-Heon (Dan) Shim, of the School of Earth and Space Exploration head up the team, and their work appears in the June issue of Nature Geoscience. “We believe our finding will help explain the plumbing that leads to some massive volcanic eruptions, as well as the mechanism of plate tectonics from the convection, or stirring, of the mantle. This is the geo-force that drives earthquakes.

massive_mantle_plumes

Earth is layered like an onion, with a thin outer crust, a thick viscous mantle, a fluid outer core and a solid inner core. The two plumes sit in the mantle on top of Earth’s core, under the Pacific Ocean on one side and beneath Africa and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

Waves from earthquakes passing through Earth’s deep interior have revealed that these plumes are regions where seismic waves travel slowly. The mantle materials that surround these regions are thought to be composed of cooler rocks, associated with the downward movement of tectonic plates.

The plumes, also called thermo-chemical piles, have long been depicted as warmer-than-average mantle materials, pushed upward by a slow churning of hot mantle rock. The new paper argues they are also chemically different from the surrounding mantle rock, and may partly contain material pushed down by plate tectonics. They might even be material left over from Earth’s formation, 4.5 billion years ago.

Much is yet to be learned about these plumes. But the emerging view from seismic and geodynamic information is that they appear denser than the surrounding mantle materials, are dynamically stable and long-lived, and have been shaped by the mantle’s large-scale flow. The scientists expect that further work on the two deep-seated anomalies will help clarify the picture and tell of their origin.

“If a neuroscientist found an unknown structure in the human brain, the whole community of brain scientists, from psychologists to surgeons, would actively pursue understanding its role in the function of the whole system,” Garnero said.

“As the thermo-chemical piles come into sharper focus, we hope other Earth scientists will explore how these features fit into the big puzzle of planet Earth.”

_science-of-cycles24_ms

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BREAKING NEWS: New Study Reinforces Cyclical Magnetic Pole Reversals

It is important to understand there are scientifically identified varying forms of cyclical events, sometimes referred to as time-variable control parameters. As it is with the nature of scientific formulas and equations, it can be a bit complicated. Therefore, I will explain in a way that is reflective of schematics.

magnetic-field-earth

Specially related to Geophysics and Paleomagnetism, periods of magnetic reversals are basically defined in three forms of cycles. The reason for such variables, is unlike the study of solar cycles goes back only a few hundred years, the research related to Earth’s magnetic reversals covers billions of years. And to this researcher, it highlights Earth’s relationship to our galaxy Milky Way and beyond which I believe already shows cycles going back hundreds of thousands years, and at the rate of new research coming in, I believe new data will identify cyclical events related to our solar system going back to near the Big Bang.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-earth-core-structure-to-scale-isolated-illustrated-geological-layers-according-black-elements-d-image-furnished-image38470080

One measurement of a magnetic reversal (MR) is defined as ‘below random’. The reason for this variable is the period between supercrons and clustering. This is because of the variance in convection between the Earth’s core and mantle. In simple terms, it is yet specifically identified as to the external cause of heating and cooling cycles of Earth’s core. Again, to this writer, it is a sure sign the convection process goes far beyond or Sun’s influence. Remember, the Sun’s magnetic field reversal has only a 22 year oscillation; which actually suggests it plays a small part related to Earth’s magnetic reversal. However, this does not mean the solar flux does not cause harmful effects to Earth and humans. During times of high solar activity, solar flares and cmes can pierce through the magnetic field. And during times of low solar activity, the lack of solar plasma allows the more harmful and damaging Galactic Cosmic Rays to enter our atmosphere which brings with it a blast of radiation.

liquid-core

A second measurement of a MR cycle is defined as ‘nearly periodic’. Again, this has to do with periods of Earth’s development such as the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. As the Earth’s inner core developed, of course this would have a developing influence on the convection process.

A third measurement of a MR cycle is defined as ‘time-dependent periodic’. This is to say, from the time of Earth’s fully developed inner core, there is a time-dependent cycle of magnetic fluctuation of a pre, during, and post reversal. The reason for the term “time-dependent” is directly related to the ebb and flow of mantle plumes. In other words, it is directly related to the heating and cooling of Earth’s core through the process of convection.

multipile magnetic fields ancient earth

Why is this important? Because it can be fully identified and measured. In other words, there will be signs and symptoms during the process. In fact, we are already seeing them. First the magnetic north pole will drift. It will continue and speed up over time and may go as far south as 40th degree parallel. Then in its final stages it will bounce back and forth between north and south, then finally and perhaps in a single day, flip completely.

More coming soon…………

 

_science-of-cycles24_ms

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UPDATE: Earth’s Magnetic Field Shifts Much Faster Than Expected

It was back in January 2014, when NASA’s Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL)’s payload of thallium-activated sodium iodide, NaI(Tl) a crystalline material widely used for the detection of gamma-rays in scintillation detectors, saw something never seen before. During a moderate solar storm in which magnetic solar material collides with Earth’s magnetic field, BARREL mapped for the first time how the storm caused Earth’s magnetic field to shift and move.

earth's magnetic field lines

The fields’ configuration shifted much faster than expected – ‘on the order of minutes’ rather than hours or days. The results took researchers by such surprise causing them to check and re-check instruments and hypothesized outcomes. As a result, their findings were not published until last week on May 12 2016.

barrel

During the solar storm, three BARREL balloons were flying through parts of Earth’s magnetic field that directly connect a region of Antarctica to Earth’s north magnetic pole. One BARREL balloon was on a magnetic field line with one end on Earth and one end connected to the Sun’s magnetic field. And two balloons switched back and forth between closed and open field lines throughout the solar storm, providing a map of how the boundary between open and closed field lines moved.

“It is very difficult to model the open-closed boundary,” said Alexa Halford, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This will help with our simulations of how magnetic fields change around Earth, because we’re able to state exactly where we saw this boundary.”

solar-earth image cluster_m

We live in the path of the Sun’s outflow of charged particles, called the solar wind. Solar wind particles are accelerated to high speeds by explosions on the Sun or pushed along by plasma – clouds of solar material. Much of this magnetic field loops up and out into space, but then connects back to Earth at the north magnetic pole, near the Arctic Circle.

A portion of Earth’s magnetic field is open as it connects to the Sun’s magnetic field. This open magnetic field gives charged particles from the Sun a path into Earth’s atmosphere. Once particles are stuck to an open field line, they exceedingly accelerate down into the upper atmosphere. The boundary between these open and closed regions of Earth’s magnetic field is anything but constant. Due to various causes – such as incoming clouds of charged particles, the closed magnetic field lines can realign into open field lines and vice versa, changing the location of the boundary between open and closed magnetic field lines.

magnetic-shift

Scientists have known the open-closed boundary moves, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly how, when, and how quickly it changes – and that is where BARREL comes in. The six BARREL balloons flying during the January 2014 solar storm were able to map these changes, and they found something surprising – the open-closed boundary moves rapidly changing location within minutes.

It is possible, but unlikely, that complex dynamics in the magnetosphere gave the appearance that the BARREL balloons were dancing along this open-closed boundary. If a very fast magnetic wave was sending radiation belt electrons down into the atmosphere in short stuttering bursts, it could appear that the balloons were switching between open and closed magnetic field lines.

However, the particle counts measured by the two balloons on the open-closed boundary matched up to those observed by the other BARREL balloons hovering on closed or open field lines only. This observation strengths the case that BARREL’s balloons were actually crossing the boundary between solar and terrestrial magnetic field.

BREAKING NEWS: Magnetic Field Shifts Much Faster Than Expected

It was back in January 2014, when NASA’s Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL)’s payload of thallium-activated sodium iodide, NaI(Tl) a crystalline material widely used for the detection of gamma-rays in scintillation detectors, saw something never seen before. During a moderate solar storm in which magnetic solar material collides with Earth’s magnetic field, BARREL mapped for the first time how the storm caused Earth’s magnetic field to shift and move.

earth's magnetic field lines

The fields’ configuration shifted much faster than expected – ‘on the order of minutes’ rather than hours or days. The results took researchers by such surprise causing them to check and re-check instruments and hypothesized outcomes. As a result, their findings were not published until last week on May 12 2016.

barrel

During the solar storm, three BARREL balloons were flying through parts of Earth’s magnetic field that directly connect a region of Antarctica to Earth’s north magnetic pole. One BARREL balloon was on a magnetic field line with one end on Earth and one end connected to the Sun’s magnetic field. And two balloons switched back and forth between closed and open field lines throughout the solar storm, providing a map of how the boundary between open and closed field lines moved.

“It is very difficult to model the open-closed boundary,” said Alexa Halford, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This will help with our simulations of how magnetic fields change around Earth, because we’re able to state exactly where we saw this boundary.”

solar-earth image cluster_m

We live in the path of the Sun’s outflow of charged particles, called the solar wind. Solar wind particles are accelerated to high speeds by explosions on the Sun or pushed along by plasma – clouds of solar material. Much of this magnetic field loops up and out into space, but then connects back to Earth at the north magnetic pole, near the Arctic Circle.

A portion of Earth’s magnetic field is open as it connects to the Sun’s magnetic field. This open magnetic field gives charged particles from the Sun a path into Earth’s atmosphere. Once particles are stuck to an open field line, they exceedingly accelerate down into the upper atmosphere. The boundary between these open and closed regions of Earth’s magnetic field is anything but constant. Due to various causes – such as incoming clouds of charged particles, the closed magnetic field lines can realign into open field lines and vice versa, changing the location of the boundary between open and closed magnetic field lines.

magnetic-shift

Scientists have known the open-closed boundary moves, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly how, when, and how quickly it changes – and that is where BARREL comes in. The six BARREL balloons flying during the January 2014 solar storm were able to map these changes, and they found something surprising – the open-closed boundary moves rapidly changing location within minutes.

It is possible, but unlikely, that complex dynamics in the magnetosphere gave the appearance that the BARREL balloons were dancing along this open-closed boundary. If a very fast magnetic wave was sending radiation belt electrons down into the atmosphere in short stuttering bursts, it could appear that the balloons were switching between open and closed magnetic field lines.

However, the particle counts measured by the two balloons on the open-closed boundary matched up to those observed by the other BARREL balloons hovering on closed or open field lines only. This observation strengths the case that BARREL’s balloons were actually crossing the boundary between solar and terrestrial magnetic field.

JUST IN: Study Affirms Jet Stream and Ocean Currents Cause of Sea Ice Differences at Earth’s Poles

Why has the sea ice cover surrounding Antarctica been increasing slightly, in sharp contrast to the drastic loss of sea ice occurring in the Arctic Ocean? A new NASA-led study finds the geology of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean is responsible. A team led by Son Nghiem of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, used satellite radar, sea surface temperature, landform and bathymetry (ocean depth) data to study the physical processes and properties affecting Antarctic sea ice.

antarctica_ice_sheet

They found that two persistent geological factors, the topography of Antarctica and the depth of the ocean surrounding it are influencing winds and ocean currents, respectively, to drive the formation and evolution of Antarctica’s sea ice cover and help sustain it.

Equation:
Sunspots → Solar Flares (charged particles) → Magnetic Field Shift → Shifting Ocean and Jet Stream Currents → Extreme Weather and Human Disruption (mitch battros 1998).

equation2_1998

“Our study provides strong evidence that the behavior of Antarctic sea ice is entirely consistent with the geophysical characteristics found in the southern polar region, which differ sharply from those present in the Arctic,” said Nghiem. Antarctic sea ice cover is dominated by first-year (seasonal) sea ice. Each year, the sea ice reaches its maximum extent around the frozen continent in September and retreats to about 17 percent of that extent in February. Since the late 1970s, its extent has been relatively stable, increasing just slightly; however, regional differences are observed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the years, scientists have floated various hypotheses to explain the behavior of Antarctic sea ice, particularly in light of observed global temperature increases. Examples are: “changes in the ozone hole involved?” – “Could fresh meltwater from Antarctic ice shelves be making the ocean surface less salty” – “Are increases in the strength of Antarctic winds causing the ice to thicken.” Unfortunately, a definitive answer has remained elusive.

Nghiem and his team came up with a novel approach. They analyzed radar data from NASA’s QuikScat satellite from 1999 to 2009 to trace the paths of Antarctic sea ice movements and map its different types. They focused on the 2008 growth season, a year of exceptional seasonal variability in Antarctic sea ice coverage.

To address the question of how the Southern Ocean maintains this great sea ice shield, the team combined sea surface temperature data from multiple satellites with a recently available bathymetric chart of the depth of the world’s oceans. They found the temperature line corresponds with the southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current front, a boundary that separates the circulation of cold and warm waters around Antarctica. The team theorized that the location of this front follows the underwater bathymetry.

QuikScat satellite

When they plotted the bathymetric data against the ocean temperatures, the pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Pronounced seafloor features strongly guide the ocean current and correspond closely with observed regional Antarctic sea ice patterns.

Study results are published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment. Other participating institutions include the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering at UCLA; the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle; and the U.S. National/Naval Ice Center, NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. Additional funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.