NASA keeps watch over space explosions

NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, has been observing such explosions­ — created in a process called magnetic reconnection — for three years.

conceptual animation depicting an MMS observation of magnetic reconnection. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab
conceptual animation depicting an MMS observation of magnetic reconnection. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Conceptual Image Lab

In near-space, everything seems calm but not always. Now and then the scanty particles and vitality there, offers a considerable show: a single mighty explosion, only a small amount of a second long, can prompt a huge number of electrons taking off at supersonic speeds.

Some fly out into space, while others are channeled along magnetic field lines into Earth’s upper atmosphere where they make auroras or wreak ruin on power networks on account of a to a great degree huge occasion. NASA‘s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, has been watching such explosions­ — made in a procedure called attractive reconnection — for a long time.

Recently, in the second phase of its mission, MMS saw reconnection in Earth’s magnetotail — the part of Earth’s magnetic environment trailing behind the planet, away from the Sun — with enough resolution to reveal its true nature more clearly.

In its second phase, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission — MMS — is watching magnetic reconnection in action behind Earth, as shown here by the tangled blue and red magnetic field lines. Credits: Patricia Reiff/NASA Goddard/Joy Ng
In its second phase, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission — MMS — is watching magnetic reconnection in action behind Earth, as shown here by the tangled blue and red magnetic field lines. Credits: Patricia Reiff/NASA Goddard/Joy Ng

Magnetic reconnection happens around Earth each day because of attractive field lines bending and reconnecting. It occurs in various routes in better places, with various impacts. In the magnetotail, for instance, the procedure can make aurora close Earth. In the magnetotail the occasion viewed by MMS was found to excursion particles symmetrically, dissimilar to how it does on the sunward side of Earth.

Behind Earth, away from the Moon, magnetic reconnection occurs symmetrically. This simulation shows particles traveling away from the site of reconnection equally in both directions, confined by the red magnetic field lines. Credits: Michael Hesse/NASA Goddard/Joy Ng
Behind Earth, away from the Moon, magnetic reconnection occurs symmetrically. This simulation shows particles traveling away from the site of reconnection equally in both directions, confined by the red magnetic field lines. Credits: Michael Hesse/NASA Goddard/Joy Ng

Out front, the solar wind — a constant flow of charged particles from the Sun — pushes into Earth’s magnetic field. Because of their different densities, the two sides connecting are unequal, which causes magnetic reconnection to occur asymmetrically.

On Earth's dayside, magnetic reconnection is asymmetric — meaning it flings particles, like ions and electrons, unequally in different directions. In this simulation, particles are seen primarily moving upwards away from the site of reconnection along the black magnetic field lines. Credits: Paul Cassak/NASA Goddard/Joy Ng
On Earth’s dayside, magnetic reconnection is asymmetric — meaning it flings particles, like ions and electrons, unequally in different directions. In this simulation, particles are seen primarily moving upwards away from the site of reconnection along the black magnetic field lines. Credits: Paul Cassak/NASA Goddard/Joy Ng

On the back side, in the magnetotail, the explosion stems from an entanglement of two sets of — similarly intense — Earth field lines, so the particles are accelerated nearly the same in both directions.

Magnetic reconnection additionally occurs on the Sun and over the universe — in all cases strongly shooting out particles and driving a significant part of the change we find in powerful space conditions — so finding out about it around Earth likewise encourages us to comprehend reconnection in faraway spots where it’s difficult to gauge straightforwardly.

The more we comprehend about various kinds of magnetic reconnection, the more we can sort out what such blasts may look like somewhere else, and how we can more readily get ready for outrageous occasions here on Earth.

The results have been published in the journal Science.