Scientists discover biggest breach of Earths solar storm shield

December 17th, 2008 - 3:55 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 17 (ANI): A NASA and National Science Foundation sponsored research has identified the biggest breach of Earths solar storm shield, in the form of two holes that allow the largest leaks.

The research determined that Earths magnetic field, which shields our planet from particles streaming outward from the Sun, often develops two holes that allow the largest leaks.

According to Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles, Principal Investigator for NASA’’s THEMIS mission (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), The discovery overturns a long-standing belief about how and when most of the solar particles penetrate Earths magnetic field, and could be used to predict when solar storms will be severe.

Based on these results, we expect more severe storms during the upcoming solar cycle, he added.

THEMIS was used to discover the size of the leak.

Earths magnetic field acts as a shield against the bombardment of particles continuously streaming from the sun. Because the solar particles (ions and electrons) are electrically charged, they feel magnetic forces and most are deflected by our planets magnetic field.

However, our magnetic field is a leaky shield and the number of particles breaching this shield depends on the orientation of the suns magnetic field.

It had been thought that when the suns magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth, the door is shut and that few if any solar particles enter Earths magnetic shield.

The door was thought to open up when the solar magnetic field direction points opposite to Earths field, leading to more solar particles inside the shield.

Surprisingly, recent observations by the THEMIS spacecraft fleet demonstrate that the opposite is true.

Twenty times more solar particles cross the Earths leaky magnetic shield when the suns magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth compared to when the two magnetic fields are oppositely directed, said Marit Oieroset of the University of California, Berkeley, lead author of one of two papers on this research. (ANI)

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