Nav: Home

Scientists deepen understanding of magnetic fields surrounding Earth and other planets

July 12, 2019

Vast rings of electrically charged particles encircle the Earth and other planets. Now, a team of scientists has completed research into waves that travel through this magnetic, electrically charged environment, known as the magnetosphere, deepening understanding of the region and its interaction with our own planet, and opening up new ways to study other planets across the galaxy.

The scientists, led by Eun-Hwa Kim, physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), examined a type of wave that travels through the magnetosphere. These waves, called electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves, reveal the temperature and the density of the plasma particles within the magnetosphere, among other qualities.

"Waves are a kind of signal from the plasma," said Kim, lead author of a paper that reported the findings in JGR Space Physics. "Therefore, the EMIC waves can be used as diagnostic tools to reveal some of the plasma's characteristics."

Kim and researchers from Andrews University in Michigan and Kyung Hee University in South Korea focused their research on mode conversion, the way in which some EMIC waves form. During this process, other waves that compress along the direction they travel from outer space collide with Earth's magnetosphere and trigger the formation of EMIC waves, which then zoom off at a particular angle and polarization -- the direction in which all of the light waves are vibrating.

Using PPPL computers, the scientists performed simulations showing that these mode-converted EMIC waves can propagate through the magnetosphere along magnetic field lines at a normal angle that is less than 90 degrees, in relation to the border of the region with space. Knowing such characteristics enables physicists to identify EMIC waves and gather information about the magnetosphere with limited initial information.

A better understanding of the magnetosphere could provide detailed information about how Earth and other planets interact with their space environment. For instance, the waves could allow scientists to determine the density of elements like helium and oxygen in the magnetosphere, as well as learn more about the flow of charged particles from the sun that produces the aurora borealis.

Moreover, engineers employ waves similar to EMIC waves to aid the heating of plasma in doughnut-shaped magnetic fusion devices known as tokamaks. So, studying the behavior of the waves in the magnetosphere could deepen insight into the creation of fusion energy, which takes place when plasma particles collide to form heavier particles. Scientists around the world seek to replicate fusion on Earth for a virtually inexhaustible supply of power to generate electricity.

Knowledge of EMIC waves could thus provide wide-ranging benefits. "We are really eager to understand the magnetosphere and how it mediates the effect that space weather has on our planet," said Kim. "Being able to use EMIC waves as diagnostics would be very helpful."
-end-
This study was made available online in April 2019, with the final online publication on May 17, 2019.

This research was supported by the DOE's Office of Science (Fusion Energy Sciences), the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas -- ultra-hot, charged gases -- and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science

DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Related Planets Articles:

How planets may form after dust sticks together
Scientists may have figured out how dust particles can stick together to form planets, according to a Rutgers co-authored study that may also help to improve industrial processes.
Planets around a black hole?
Theoreticians in two different fields defied the common knowledge that planets orbit stars like the Sun.
The rare molecule weighing in on the birth of planets
Astronomers using one of the most advanced radio telescopes have discovered a rare molecule in the dust and gas disc around a young star -- and it may provide an answer to one of the conundrums facing astronomers.
How many Earth-like planets are around sun-like stars?
A new study provides the most accurate estimate of the frequency that planets that are similar to Earth in size and in distance from their host star occur around stars similar to our Sun.
Dead planets can 'broadcast' for up to a billion years
Astronomers are planning to hunt for cores of exoplanets around white dwarf stars by 'tuning in' to the radio waves that they emit.
The sun follows the rhythm of the planets
One of the big questions in solar physics is why the sun's activity follows a regular cycle of 11 years.
Five planets revealed after 20 years of observation
To confirm the presence of a planet, it is necessary to wait until it has made one or more revolutions around its star.
Icy giant planets in the laboratory
Giant planets like Neptune may contain much less free hydrogen than previously assumed.
New NASA mission could find more than 1,000 planets
A NASA telescope that will give humans the largest, deepest, clearest picture of the universe since the Hubble Space Telescope could find as many as 1,400 new planets outside Earth's solar system, new research suggests.
Giant planets around young star raise questions about how planets form
Researchers have identified a young star with four Jupiter and Saturn-sized planets in orbit around it, the first time that so many massive planets have been detected in such a young system.
More Planets News and Planets Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.