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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Magnetic Portals Connect Earth and Sun (Magnetic Fields Photo Blog)

Hi Everybody!

Tonight we are looking at Magnetic Portals connecting Sun and Earth. 
NASA has a new Mission (MMS) to launch in 2014 to study these Magnetic Fields. I have collected some Videos on this subject to explain what all this is about! Come in and get comfortable. Take a break from your busy world to consider some new ideas!  Enjoy!

Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the 

microphysics of magnetic reconnection

The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is a Solar Terrestrial Probes mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth's magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of three fundamental plasma processes: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. These processes occur in all astrophysical plasma systems but can be studied in situ only in our solar system and most efficiently only in Earth’s magnetosphere, where they control the dynamics of the geospace environment and play an important role in the processes known as “space weather.”

MMS Spacecraft in formation
The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission will use four identical spacecraft, variably spaced in Earth orbit, to make three-dimensional measurements of magnetospheric boundary regions and examine the process of magnetic reconnection. Credit: Southwest Research Institute

Mission Status

Launch Readiness Date (LRD): August 2014
Phase C/D: Design & Development
Mission Highlights – As of June 27, 2012:
Integration and development activities continued this week highlights included:
  • Mission:
    • Space Network (SN) successfully compatibility testing was completed including end-to-end testing from Spacecraft #1 to TDRS (via CTV antenna) to White Sands to the MMS MOC.
  • Spacecraft:
    • Observatory Structures #3 and #4 were stacked and mated with a flight clamp-band and the separation shock testing was successfully executed.
    • C&DH #2 continued EMI/C testing and PSEES #3 is in vibration testing.
  • Instrument Suite:
    • Thermal-vacuum testing is ongoing for DES FM9 and FM10 and vibration testing is scheduled to begin Friday for DES FM7 and FM8.
    • FPI IPDU FM1 was delivered and integrated onto Instrument Suite (IS) #1.
    • HPCA successfully completed the Initial Calibration test of FM2.

Instrument Integration Begins at Goddard on MMS Spacecraft

An instrument deck for NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission is readied for installation of instruments. Two instruments have already been installed: the white box on the lower right is the Energetic Ion Spectrometer; the black box in the upper right is the Central Instrument Data Processor. Credit: NASA\GSFC\Lambert 

The decks have arrived. Engineers working on NASA’S Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission have started integrating instruments on the first of four instrument decks in a newly fabricated cleanroom at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The MMS mission consists of four identical spacecraft, and each instrument deck will have 25 sensors per spacecraft.

Artist rendition of MMS spacecraft.
Artist's rendition of MMS in orbit. Credit: NASA
"This is the first time NASA has ever built four satellites near simultaneously like this," says Craig Tooley, project manager for MMS at Goddard. "It feels like we're planning a giant game of musical chairs to produce multiple copies of a spacecraft. One instrument deck might be 2/3 finished, while another one is 1/3 finished, and the same people will have to test a nearly complete deck one day, and install large components on another one another day."

MMS will fly the four spacecraft in formation to investigate how the sun's and Earth's magnetic fields connect and disconnect, explosively transferring energy from one to the other -- a process that occurs throughout the universe, known as magnetic reconnection.

By going into space to observe magnetic reconnection where it is happening, MMS will both study a fundamental physical process that occurs throughout the universe as well as observe one of the ultimate drivers of our space weather, which affects modern technological systems such as communications networks, GPS navigation, and electrical power grids.

Goddard manages the MMS mission and is building the spacecraft in-house on-site in a specially designed cleanroom. Dr. James L. Burch at Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio, Texas is the principal investigator for the MMS science investigation. SWRI oversees the entire MMS instrument suite for NASA, with various instruments being built at other institutions, including the Fast Plasma Instrument, which is being built at Goddard.

Karen C. Fox
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center 

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July 02, 2012

"X-Points" --Hidden Portals Found Linking Earth to Sun's Magnetic Field

Data from NASA's Polar spacecraft, circa 1998, provided crucial clues to finding "portals" -- an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. "We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. "They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."

Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these 
magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. They're typically located a few tens 
of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind.
 Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic 
particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic
 storms, and igniting bright polar auroras.
NASA is planning a mission called "MMS," short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, due to
 launch in 2014, to study the phenomenon. Bristling with energetic particle detectors and 
 magnetic sensors, the four spacecraft of MMS will spread out in Earth's magnetosphere and 
surround the portals to observe how they work.
Just one problem: Finding them. Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable, and elusive. They open 
and close without warning "and there are no signposts to guide us in," notes Scudder.* Portals 
form via the process of magnetic reconnection. Mingling lines of magnetic force from the sun and 
Earth criss-cross and join to create the openings. "X-points" are where the criss-cross takes place.
 The sudden joining of magnetic fields can propel jets of charged particles from the X-point,
 creating an "electron diffusion region."
To learn how to pinpoint these events, Scudder looked at data from a space probe that orbited
 Earth more than 10 years ago.* "In the late 1990s, NASA's Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth's 
magnetosphere," explains Scudder, "and it encountered many X-points during its mission."
Because Polar carried sensors similar to those of MMS, Scudder decided to see how an X-point
 looked to Polar. "Using Polar data, we have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and 
energetic particle measurements that tell us when we've come across an X-point or an electron
 diffusion region. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements."
This means that single member of the MMS constellation using the diagnostics can find a portal 
and alert other members of the constellation. Mission planners long thought that MMS might have
 to spend a year or so learning to find portals before it could study them. Scudder's work short
 cuts the process, allowing MMS to get to work without delay.* It's a shortcut worthy of the best 
portals of fiction, only this time the portals are real. And with the new "signposts" we know how to
 find them.
The work of Scudder and colleagues is described in complete detail in the June 1 issue of
 thePhysical Review Letters.
The Daily Galaxy via Science@NASA
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Magnetic Portals Connect Earth to the Sun

Oct. 30, 2008: During the time it takes you to read this article, something will happen high overhead that until recently many scientists didn't believe in. A magnetic portal will open, linking Earth to the sun 93 million miles away. Tons of high-energy particles may flow through the opening before it closes again, around the time you reach the end of the page.
"It's called a flux transfer event or 'FTE,'" says space physicist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Ten years ago I was pretty sure they didn't exist, but now the evidence is incontrovertible."
Indeed, today Sibeck is telling an international assembly of space physicists at the 2008 Plasma Workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, that FTEs are not just common, but possibly twice as common as anyone had ever imagined.
Researchers have long known that the Earth and sun must be connected. Earth's magnetosphere (the magnetic bubble that surrounds our planet) is filled with particles from the sun that arrive via the solar wind and penetrate the planet's magnetic defenses. They enter by following magnetic field lines that can be traced from terra firma all the way back to the sun's atmosphere.

"We used to think the connection was permanent and that solar wind could trickle into the near-Earth environment anytime the wind was active," says Sibeck. "We were wrong. The connections are not steady at all. They are often brief, bursty and very dynamic."
Several speakers at the Workshop have outlined how FTEs form: On the dayside of Earth (the side closest to the sun), Earth's magnetic field presses against the sun's magnetic field. Approximately every eight minutes, the two fields briefly merge or "reconnect," forming a portal through which particles can flow. The portal takes the form of a magnetic cylinder about as wide as Earth. The European Space Agency's fleet of four Cluster spacecraft and NASA's five THEMIS probes have flown through and surrounded these cylinders, measuring their dimensions and sensing the particles that shoot through. "They're real," says Sibeck.
Above: An artist's concept of Earth's magnetic field connecting to the sun's--a.k.a. a "flux transfer event"--with a spacecraft on hand to measure particles and fields.
Now that Cluster and THEMIS have directly sampled FTEs, theorists can use those measurements to simulate FTEs in their computers and predict how they might behave. Space physicist Jimmy Raeder of the University of New Hampshire presented one such simulation at the Workshop. He told his colleagues that the cylindrical portals tend to form above Earth's equator and then roll over Earth's winter pole. In December, FTEs roll over the north pole; in July they roll over the south pole.
Right: A "magnetic portal" or FTE mapped in cross-section by NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft. [Larger image]
Sibeck believes this is happening twice as often as previously thought. "I think there are two varieties of FTEs: active and passive." Active FTEs are magnetic cylinders that allow particles to flow through rather easily; they are important conduits of energy for Earth's magnetosphere. Passive FTEs are magnetic cylinders that offer more resistance; their internal structure does not admit such an easy flow of particles and fields. (For experts: Active FTEs form at equatorial latitudes when the IMF tips south; passive FTEs form at higher latitudes when the IMF tips north.) Sibeck has calculated the properties of passive FTEs and he is encouraging his colleagues to hunt for signs of them in data from THEMIS and Cluster. "Passive FTEs may not be very important, but until we know more about them we can't be sure."
There are many unanswered questions: Why do the portals form every 8 minutes? How do magnetic fields inside the cylinder twist and coil? "We're doing some heavy thinking about this at the Workshop," says Sibeck.
Meanwhile, high above your head, a new portal is opening, connecting your planet to the sun.
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
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