Where did the storm go? NASA probes earth’s magnetotail mystery

Where did the storm go? NASA probes earth’s magnetotail mystery
Where did the storm go? NASA probes earth’s magnetotail mystery
NEW DELHI: Earth’s magnetic field has a tail, known as the magnetotail, formed as the solar wind from the sun buffets our planet. Typically, this magnetotail is strewn with magnetic storms. However, for the past several years, scientists have encountered a mystery in the magnetotail: a missing storm. They have detected the signature of a storm but found no actual storm to correspond with it. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is now investigating this enigma.

MMS included four satellites that launched together on an Atlas V rocket in 2015. Since then, these satellites have been studying Earth’s magnetopause, the boundary region dominated by the planet’s magnetic field. The magnetopause frequently experiences magnetic reconnections, where magnetic field lines come together, break apart, and then rejoin, generating heat and kinetic energy. These reconnections, if they occur in Earth’s atmosphere, can cause aurora.

Scientists refer to these bursts of activity as substorms. In 2017, MMS identified the hallmark magnetic reconnection of a substorm, but surprisingly, there was no actual substorm to accompany it. A typical substorm would include violent electric currents and magnetic field fluctuations, but MMS detected neither.

“We have not looked at the movement of the magnetic field lines on a global scale, so it could be that this unusual substorm was a very localized occurrence that MMS happened to observe,” explained Andy Marshall, a postdoc at the Southwest Research Institute. “If not, it could reshape our understanding of the relationship between tail-side reconnection and substorms.”

Over the next year, MMS will measure magnetic reconnections in Earth’s real magnetic field, while ground-based scientists conduct simulations to understand its behavior. By comparing these data sets, scientists aim to resolve the mystery and gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between reconnection and the resulting events.

“It’s possible that significant differences exist between the global magnetotail convection patterns for substorms and non-substorm tail reconnection,” Marshall added.

The findings from this investigation could significantly advance our understanding of Earth’s magnetotail and the magnetic phenomena occurring within it.

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