Throughout the United States, researchers have been attempting to uncover the physics behind space weather. And despite sounding quite science fiction, space weather should concern each of us. Our sun hurls millions of tons of plasma gas into space, called solar wind. It then buffets the magnetic field surrounding the Earth and can cause powerful geomagnetic storms which in turn disrupt cell phone services, damage satellites as well as blackout power grids. Researchers believe that if such outbursts could be predicted in a timely and precise manner, measures could also be undertaken to cope with the aftermath of geomagnetic storms.
A recent study will be presented in New Orleans, at the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics. Several experiments have been taking place and the results include numerous findings.
Experiments conducted at the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory have revealed how solar wind particles are accelerated to high energy by magnetic reconnection, a phenomenon occurring in solar flares. They also showed how the resulting solar winds interact with magnetic fields, particularly the one protecting the Earth.
Researchers from the Swarthmore College used a plasma “wind tunnel” to simulate how magnetic turbulence works. Professor Michael Brown and post doc. David Schaffner have then simulated the key signatures of magnetic turbulence occurring in solar winds, which have a significant role in astrophysical jets driven by stars at the end of their lives.
Another team of Scientists from UCLA have recorded observations on plasma magnetic waves interactions. These ripple through turbulent solar wind, where, with the help of the Large Plasma Device, they could conduct satellite measurements which explained the behavior of hot plasma.
At Columbia University, researchers used a chamber filled with plasma and magnetic fields that acted just as the Earth’s magnetosphere to uncover the connection between ionosphere currents and local space weather near the Blue Planet.
Five leading studies on the topic have increased our understanding of what happens in space.
The Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at PPPL has permitted scientists to identify how reconnection transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy. They measured the amount of this energy turned into particle energy. According to their results, reconnection converts about 50 percent of magnetic energy- one third of the conversion heats electrons while two thirds accelerate ions in the plasma. When this occurs in large bodies, such as the sun, the converted energy can equal millions of tons of TNT.
“This is a major milestone for our research. We can now see the entire picture of how much of the energy goes to the electrons and how much to the ions in a prototypical reconnection layer.”
Masaaki Yamada, lead investigator for MRX said.