Chandra looks back at the Earth

December 29, 2005

In an unusual observation, a team of scientists has scanned the northern polar region of Earth with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The results show that the aurora borealis, or "northern lights," also dance in X-ray light, creating changing bright arcs of X-ray energy above the Earth's surface.

While other satellite observations had previously detected high-energy X-rays from the Earth auroras, the latest Chandra observations reveal low-energy X-rays generated for the first time during auroral activity.

The researchers, led by Dr. Ron Elsner of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., used Chandra to observe the Earth 10 times over a four-month period in 2004. The images were created from approximately 20-minute scans during which Chandra was aimed at a fixed point in the sky and the Earth's motion carried the auroral regions through Chandra's field of view.

From the ground, the aurora are known to change dramatically over time, and this is also the case in X-ray light. The X-rays in this sample of the Chandra observations, which have been superimposed on an approximate representation of the Earth, are seen here.

Auroras are produced by solar storms that eject clouds of energetic charged particles. These particles are deflected when they encounter the Earth's magnetic field, but in the process large electric voltages are created. Electrons trapped in the Earth's magnetic field are accelerated by these voltages and spiral along the magnetic field into the polar regions. There they collide with atoms high in the atmosphere and emit X-rays. Chandra has also observed dramatic auroral activity on Jupiter.

Dr. Anil Bhardwaj is the lead author on a paper describing these results in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics. Dr. Bhardwaj was a co-investigator on this project and worked with Dr. Elsner at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center while this research was conducted.

The research team also includes Randy Gladstone, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas; Nikolai Østgaard, University of Bergen, Norway; Hunter Waite and Tariq Majeed, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Thomas Cravens, University of Kansas, Lawrence; Shen-Wu Chang, University of Alabama, Huntsville; and Albert E. Metzger, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
-end-
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

Chandra X-ray Center

Related Magnetic Field Articles from Brightsurf:

Investigating optical activity under an external magnetic field
A new study published in EPJ B by Chengping Yin, Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Quantum Engineering and Quantum Materials, South China, aims to derive an analytical model of optical activity in black phosphorous under an external magnetic field.

Magnetic field and hydrogels could be used to grow new cartilage
Instead of using synthetic materials, Penn Medicine study shows magnets could be used to arrange cells to grow new tissues

Magnetic field with the edge!
This study overturns a dominant six-decade old notion that the giant magnetic field in a high intensity laser produced plasma evolves from the nanometre scale.

Global magnetic field of the solar corona measured for the first time
An international team led by Professor Tian Hui from Peking University has recently measured the global magnetic field of the solar corona for the first time.

Magnetic field of a spiral galaxy
A new image from the VLA dramatically reveals the extended magnetic field of a spiral galaxy seen edge-on from Earth.

How does Earth sustain its magnetic field?
Life as we know it could not exist without Earth's magnetic field and its ability to deflect dangerous ionizing particles.

Scholes finds novel magnetic field effect in diamagnetic molecules
The Princeton University Department of Chemistry publishes research this week proving that an applied magnetic field will interact with the electronic structure of weakly magnetic, or diamagnetic, molecules to induce a magnetic-field effect that, to their knowledge, has never before been documented.

Origins of Earth's magnetic field remain a mystery
The existence of a magnetic field beyond 3.5 billion years ago is still up for debate.

New research provides evidence of strong early magnetic field around Earth
New research from the University of Rochester provides evidence that the magnetic field that first formed around Earth was even stronger than scientists previously believed.

Massive photons in an artificial magnetic field
An international research collaboration from Poland, the UK and Russia has created a two-dimensional system -- a thin optical cavity filled with liquid crystal -- in which they trapped photons.

Read More: Magnetic Field News and Magnetic Field Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.