Antonio Manaytay – Fourth Estate Contributor
Madison, WI, United States (4E) – Scientists at University of Wisconsin-Madison had finally found what powers the most brilliant northern lights, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections.
The detail of the celestial phenomenon, the so-called “magnetic reconnection,” came from a new spacecraft capable of measuring the radiation and magnetic fields in high orbit, according to a study published in Physical Review Letters.
“We’re looking at the best picture yet of magnetic reconnection in space,” study’s senior author Jan Egedal, a physics professor, said.
Magnetic reconnection refers to the merger of magnetic fields that resulted to the release of tremendous amount of energy. It remains mysterious because it defies the “standard law” that governs charged particles, called as plasma.
Egedal and his colleagues examined the October 15, 2016 recordings – the time when the Magnetosphere Multiscale satellite went through a point where the Earth’s magnetic field intersects with the solar wind.
“Our data clearly show that electrons suddenly cease to follow magnetic fields and zoom off in another direction, corkscrewing and turning,” Egedal said, adding that it “begs for explanation.”
The observation confirmed the theoreticall description of magnetic reconnection but defied the law governing the behavior of charged particles.
“The plasma frozen-in law says electrons and magnetic fields have to move together always, and suddenly that does not apply here,” Egedal noted.
“It’s the clearest example ever to be measured in space, and it blew my mind,” he added.
“Our equations tell you reconnection cannot happen, but it does. And our results show us which factors need to be added to the equations,” the study’s senior author said.
Magnetic reconnection powers the auroras at the poles.
As reconnection happens on the sunward side of the Earth, according to Egedal, “it changes the magnetic energy in the system.”
“This energy migrates to the night side, and the same thing happens there, accelerating particles to the poles, forming auroras,” he said.
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