Sunday, December 23, 2007

Northern Lights Fed by Magnetic "Ropes"

Giant magnetic "ropes" between Earth and the sun are one of the forces that cause the northern lights, as recently discovered by NASA spacecraft.

"We're coming up on a new era in space physics," said Vassilis Angelopoulos, researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles

In March of this year a display of northern lights was monitored from below by cameras while five satellites overhead collected data.

"The auroras surged westward twice as fast as anyone thought possible, crossing 15 degrees of longitude in less than one minute," Angelopoulos said. "The storm traversed an entire polar time zone, or 400 miles, in 60 seconds flat."

A magnetic rope is a twisted bundle of magnetic fields organized much like the twisted hemp of a mariner's rope. These ropes which appear to connect the upper atmosphere of our planet to the sun may serve as conduits for waves of charged particles, known as the solar wind.

There have been hints that these ropes existed, but it required more that one spacecraft to map the ropes in three dimensions.

"These substorm processes are really helping us to understand and predict space weather," Angelopoulos said.

read the entire article from NASA, "NASA spacecraft make new discoveries about Northern Lights, Dec 11, 2007
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