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Discovery: Magnetic cables connect the Earth to the Sun

Themis revealed giant magnetic cables that connect the Earth to the Sun and the explosions resulting from the meeting of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetic field

In Greek mythology, Themis was one of the Titans - the daughter of Uranus and Gaia, the sky and the earth. The meaning of the word Themis is 'law of nature', to which all events in heaven and on earth must obey.

NASA chose to name its new fleet of satellites after that wise titan. The fleet, which was launched less than eight months ago, has already managed to justify its name and reveal three important discoveries that help us better understand the nature around us. The satellites were able to reveal huge magnetic cables that connect the Earth's upper atmosphere to the Sun, detected explosions on the outskirts of the Earth's magnetic field and gave new insights into the formation of substorms.

"THEMIS's mission is just beginning, but it is already surprising us," says Vassilis Anglopoulos, THEMIS' principal investigator, at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Substorms create the auroras

Probably the greatest achievement of Themis will be the data about substorms that it manages to collect. Substorms are created as a result of bursts of energy from the Earth's magnetic field. Many researchers believe that substorms encourage the formation of auroras at the Earth's poles. Scientists have been studying and tracking substorms for over a century, but they have yet to be adequately explained. The Themis did live up to its name, and helped substorm researchers find a new explanation for them.

The marathon of discoveries began in March - less than a month after the activation of the five Themis satellites. "On March 23, 2007, a substorm erupted over Alaska and Canada, producing colorful auroras for more than two hours." The storm was also photographed by cameras from the ground, and the information was combined with the information measured by the Themis, which included measuring the particles and fields from above.

According to Anglopoulos, the substorm caught researchers by surprise right from the start. "The aurora borealis erupted westward twice as fast as we thought possible, surprising us with their 'explosions'." Images taken by ground-based cameras and NASA's polar satellites revealed a series of paced explosions, each lasting about 10 minutes. "Some of the explosions died down, but others reinforced each other and became major events."

The substorm stunned researchers with its power. Anglopoulos estimates that the total amount of energy invested in the two-hour event is 500 thousand billion joules (5*10¬14). This energy is equivalent to the energy of a magnitude 5.5 earthquake, or the energy released when the atomic bomb exploded over the city of Nagasaki. Where does all this enormous energy come from? Themis seems to have found the answer.

Magnetic cables exposed

"The satellites have found evidence of the existence of magnetic cables connecting the Earth's upper atmosphere with the Sun," says Dave Sibek, Project Themis scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "We believe that solar wind particles are floating along these cables, and they are the ones that provide the energy for the geomagnetic storms and the auroras."

A 'magnetic cable' is actually a coiled bundle of magnetic fields organized together similar to small ropes that are tied together to form a thicker rope. Various satellites have already detected hints of cables in the past, but failed to map their three-dimensional structure. The Themis, on her five satellites, was up to the task.

"Themis encountered its first magnetic cable on May 20, 2007," Sibek says. "It was very big, and about as wide as the entire earth. Themis found it 80,000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth, in an area called the 'Magnetopaus'."

The magnetopause is the area where the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field meet and confront each other, as if they were two sumo wrestlers trying to throw each other backwards. In this area, the large cable is formed and untied in a few minutes. During the short time it exists, the cable serves as a transport pipe for the energy of the solar wind, which can reach the earth through it.
Although the researchers were disappointed to find that the first cable unraveled and melted within a few minutes, other cables appeared quickly. "They seem to be created all the time," Sibek says.

In addition, Themis surveyed a number of relatively small explosions, in the front of the magnetopause area. "This area is like the bow of a boat," Sibek explains. "There the solar wind was first exposed to the Earth's magnetic field." When a magnetic cluster within the solar wind hits the Earth's magnetic field... "Boom!" He says. "We're having a blast."

warm flow anomalies

The correct technical term describing these explosions is "hot flow anomalies". These anomalies increase the temperature of the solar wind particles by 10 times (up to temperatures of 10 million degrees Celsius) and can slow down the progress of the solar wind. "This is not an easy thing at all, considering that the solar wind moves at supersonic speeds of almost two million kilometers per hour!"

"Most likely warm flow anomalies alone do not provide all the energy to substorms that lead to auroras - they are simply too rare, and occur less than once a day," comments Jonathan Eastwood of the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the phenomenon. "Nevertheless, they are very interesting. This is a basic physical process that accelerates particles to high energies, and we are happy to be able to study it."

"We still have so much to learn about all these things," says Anglopoulos. "It's hard for me to wait and see what's next."

To the article on the NASA website

8 תגובות

  1. It is interesting that around 92 I "came to" the conclusion that the earth is a huge brain that planned and plans life on its surface as well as the maintenance of all the elements of life including the atmosphere and the correct distance from the sun, etc.! Also I thought if the earth is so small then what about the sun? What is her thinking ability? There should be enormous dimensions! And so she created the whole system and yes, etc.. and so (I also skip because I don't remember everything) in order to make contact with distant galaxies you need to reach the ability to connect with the earth and he in turn will pass it through the sun that is connected with the galaxy and that's how the information will pass!
    And now magnetic cables are discovered!! Does this prove anything??
    By the way, during that time I easily tried to try and use the ability of the earth (on a mega supercomputer) to reach different insights and also to solve problems such as the energy problem!!
    What a small and magnetic world!

  2. Hello Adam,

    As the Earth has an atmosphere surrounding it, it also has a magnetosphere. And just as the atmosphere does not 'sit on its guard', storms and energy bursts can also form in the magnetosphere. These are the substorms.

    The substorms typically last for one hour, during which energy is rapidly released to the outskirts of the magnetosphere. During the substorms, strong auroras appear in the region of the Earth's poles, and the Earth's magnetic field is disturbed. The changes in the Earth's magnetic field can be seen much better from space, because of the stronger flow of ions and electrons, which are highly charged with energy.

    If you want to read further, you can find a more detailed explanation at:

    Hope I answered your question,


  3. Hello Roy-

    1. I don't believe that this energy can be harnessed easily. It seems to me that this is energy that is dispersed at enormous speed between billions of particles over a vast area. It will be very difficult to 'capture' it and channel it for human use.

    2. The particle accelerator has a very strong control over the process. That is, you know exactly which particles you are accelerating, and which particles they are supposed to hit. I do not believe that the process described here could be used to accelerate particles in a sufficiently controlled manner.
    Nevertheless, it is quite possible that we can learn about the general properties of the particles from these explosions and from the substorms.

  4. two questions:
    1. In the first part we talked about a huge amount of energy, is there any possibility to harness this energy for our services? That is, generating electricity, heating water for the boiler (cold in the North Pole), or any other use of it?
    2. "Nevertheless, they are very interesting. It is a basic physical process that accelerates particles to high energies, and we are happy to be able to study it." Does this mean that it will be possible to build a particle accelerator outside of the harpoon that will use this energy?

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