Magnetosphere

Magnetosphere

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A magnetosphere is formed when a stream of charged particles, such as the solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

, interacts with and is deflected by the intrinsic magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

 of a planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 or similar body. Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 is surrounded by a magnetosphere, as are the other planets with intrinsic magnetic fields: Mercury
Mercury's magnetic field
Mercury's magnetic field is approximately a magnetic dipole that is significant, and apparently global, on planet Mercury. Data from Mariner 10 led to its discovery in 1974, and has 1.1% the strength of Earth's magnetic field, as measured by the spacecraft...

, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Jupiter's moon Ganymede
Ganymede (moon)
Ganymede is a satellite of Jupiter and the largest moon in the Solar System. It is the seventh moon and third Galilean satellite outward from Jupiter. Completing an orbit in roughly seven days, Ganymede participates in a 1:2:4 orbital resonance with the moons Europa and Io, respectively...

 has a small magnetosphere — but it is situated entirely within the magnetosphere of Jupiter, leading to complex interactions. The ionosphere
Ionosphere
The ionosphere is a part of the upper atmosphere, comprising portions of the mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere, distinguished because it is ionized by solar radiation. It plays an important part in atmospheric electricity and forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere...

s of weakly magnetized planets such as Venus
Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

 and Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 set up currents that partially deflect the solar wind flow, but do not have magnetospheres, per se.


History of magnetospheric physics


Theories about the solar plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 stream and its interaction with Earth were published as early as 1931. During the next several decades multiple scientists, including Sydney Chapman and Hannes Alfvén
Alfvén
Alfvén may refer to:People* Hannes Alfvén – a Swedish plasma physicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate* Hugo Alfvén – a Swedish composer, conductor, violinist, and painter...

, proposed a variety of mechanisms and explanations. The Earth's magnetosphere was first measured in 1958 by Explorer 1 during the research performed for the International Geophysical Year
International Geophysical Year
The International Geophysical Year was an international scientific project that lasted from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. It marked the end of a long period during the Cold War when scientific interchange between East and West was seriously interrupted...

. In August and September 1958, Project Argus was performed to test a theory about the formation of radiation belts that may have tactical use in war.

In 1959 Thomas Gold
Thomas Gold
Thomas Gold was an Austrian-born astrophysicist, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society . Gold was one of three young Cambridge scientists who in the 1950s proposed the now mostly abandoned 'steady...

 proposed the name "magnetosphere" when he wrote:
"The region above the ionosphere in which the magnetic field of the earth has a dominant control over the motions of gas and fast charged particles is known to extend out to a distance of the order of 10 earth radii; it may appropriately be called the 'magnetosphere'."

Earth's magnetosphere



The magnetosphere of Earth is a region in space whose shape is determined by the Earth's internal magnetic field, the solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 plasma, and the interplanetary magnetic field
Interplanetary Magnetic Field
The interplanetary magnetic field is the term for the solar magnetic field carried by the solar wind among the planets of the Solar System....

 (IMF). The boundary of the magnetosphere ("magnetopause
Magnetopause
The magnetopause is the abrupt boundary between a magnetosphere and the surrounding plasma. For planetary science, the magnetopause is the boundary between the planet’s magnetic field and the solar wind. The location of the magnetopause is determined by the balance between the pressure of the...

") is roughly bullet shaped, about 15 RE abreast of Earth and on the night side (in the "magnetotail" or "geotail") approaching a cylinder with a radius 20-25 RE. The tail region stretches well past 200 RE, and the way it ends is not well known.

The outer neutral gas envelope of Earth, or geocorona
Geocorona
The geocorona is the luminous part of the outermost region of the Earth's atmosphere, the exosphere. It is seen primarily via far-ultraviolet light from the Sun that is scattered from neutral hydrogen. It extends to at least 15.5 Earth radii...

, consists mostly of the lightest atoms, hydrogen and helium, and continues beyond 4-5 RE, with diminishing density. The hot plasma ions of the magnetosphere acquire electrons during collisions with these atoms and create an escaping "glow" of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) that have been used to image the hot plasma clouds by the IMAGE
IMAGE
IMAGE , or Explorer 78, was a NASA MIDEX mission that studied the global response of the Earth's magnetosphere to changes in the solar wind...

 and TWINS
TWINS
Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Spectrometers are a pair of NASA instruments aboard two United States National Reconnaissance Office satellites in Molniya orbits. TWINS was designed to provide stereo images of the Earth's ring current. The first instrument, TWINS-1, was launched aboard USA-184...

 missions.

The upward extension of the ionosphere, known as the plasmasphere
Plasmasphere
The plasmasphere, or inner magnetosphere, is a region of the Earth's magnetosphere consisting of low energy plasma. It is located above the ionosphere...

, also extends beyond 4-5 RE with diminishing density, beyond which it becomes a flow of light ions called the polar wind
Polar wind
Polar wind or plasma fountain is the permanent outflow of ionized gas from the polar regions of the magnetosphere, caused by the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth's atmosphere. The solar wind ionizes gas molecules in the upper atmosphere to such high energy that some of them reach...

 that escapes out of the magnetosphere into the solar wind. Energy deposited in the ionosphere by auroras
Aurora (astronomy)
An aurora is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere...

 strongly heats the heavier atmospheric components such as oxygen and molecule
Molecule
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

s of oxygen and nitrogen, which would not otherwise escape from Earth's gravity. Owing to this highly variable heating, however, a heavy atmospheric or ionospheric outflow of plasma flows during disturbed periods from the auroral zones into the magnetosphere, extending the region dominated by terrestrial material, known as the fourth or plasma geosphere
Geosphere
The term geosphere is often used to refer to the densest parts of Earth, which consist mostly of rock and regolith. The geosphere consists of the inside of the Earth or other planets or bodies....

, at times out to the magnetopause
Magnetopause
The magnetopause is the abrupt boundary between a magnetosphere and the surrounding plasma. For planetary science, the magnetopause is the boundary between the planet’s magnetic field and the solar wind. The location of the magnetopause is determined by the balance between the pressure of the...

.

Earth’s magnetosphere protects the ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

 from the solar wind. The ozone layer protects the Earth (and life on it) from dangerous ultraviolet radiation.

General properties




Two factors determine the structure and behavior of the magnetosphere: (1) The internal field of the Earth, and (2) The solar wind.
  1. The internal field
    Earth's magnetic field
    Earth's magnetic field is the magnetic field that extends from the Earth's inner core to where it meets the solar wind, a stream of energetic particles emanating from the Sun...

     of the Earth (its "main field") appears to be generated in the Earth's core
    Inner core
    The inner core of the Earth, its innermost hottest part as detected by seismological studies, is a primarily solid ball about in radius, or about 70% that of the Moon...

     by a dynamo process
    Dynamo theory
    In geophysics, dynamo theory proposes a mechanism by which a celestial body such as the Earth or a star generates a magnetic field. The theory describes the process through which a rotating, convecting, and electrically conducting fluid can maintain a magnetic field over astronomical time...

    , associated with the circulation of liquid metal in the core, driven by internal heat sources. Its major part resembles the field of a bar magnet ("dipole field") inclined by about 10° to the rotation axis of Earth, but more complex parts ("higher harmonics") also exist, as first shown by Carl Friedrich Gauss
    Carl Friedrich Gauss
    Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was a German mathematician and scientist who contributed significantly to many fields, including number theory, statistics, analysis, differential geometry, geodesy, geophysics, electrostatics, astronomy and optics.Sometimes referred to as the Princeps mathematicorum...

    . The dipole field has an intensity of about 30,000-60,000 nanoteslas
    Tesla (unit)
    The tesla is the SI derived unit of magnetic field B . One tesla is equal to one weber per square meter, and it was defined in 1960 in honour of the inventor, physicist, and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla...

     (nT) at the Earth's surface, and its intensity diminishes like the inverse of the cube of the distance, i.e. at a distance of 2 Earth radii it only amounts to 1/8 of the surface field in the same direction. Higher harmonics diminish faster, like higher powers of 1/R, making the dipole field the only important internal source in most of the magnetosphere.
  2. The solar wind
    Solar wind
    The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

     is a fast outflow of hot plasma from the sun in all directions. Above the sun's equator it typically attains 400 km/s; above the sun's poles, up to twice as much. The flow is powered by the million-degree temperature of the sun's corona
    Corona
    A corona is a type of plasma "atmosphere" of the Sun or other celestial body, extending millions of kilometers into space, most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but also observable in a coronagraph...

    , for which no generally accepted explanation exists yet. Its composition resembles that of the Sun—about 95% of the ions are protons, about 4% helium nuclei, with 1% of heavier matter (C
    Carbon
    Carbon is the chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. As a member of group 14 on the periodic table, it is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds...

    , N
    Nitrogen
    Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

    , O
    Oxygen
    Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

    , Ne
    Neon
    Neon is the chemical element that has the symbol Ne and an atomic number of 10. Although a very common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth. A colorless, inert noble gas under standard conditions, neon gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low-voltage neon glow lamps or...

    , Si
    Silicon
    Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. A tetravalent metalloid, it is less reactive than its chemical analog carbon, the nonmetal directly above it in the periodic table, but more reactive than germanium, the metalloid directly below it in the table...

    , Mg
    Magnesium
    Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg, atomic number 12, and common oxidation number +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole...

    ...up to Fe
    Iron
    Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

    ) and enough electrons to keep charge neutrality. At Earth's orbit its typical density is 6 ions/cm3 (variable, as is the velocity), and it contains a variable interplanetary magnetic field
    Interplanetary Magnetic Field
    The interplanetary magnetic field is the term for the solar magnetic field carried by the solar wind among the planets of the Solar System....

     (IMF) of (typically) 2–5 nT. The IMF is produced by stretched-out magnetic field lines originating on the Sun, a process described in the article Geomagnetic storm
    Geomagnetic storm
    A geomagnetic storm is a temporary disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere caused by a disturbance in the interplanetary medium. A geomagnetic storm is a major component of space weather and provides the input for many other components of space weather...

    .


Physical reasons make it difficult for solar wind plasma WITH its embedded IMF to mix with terrestrial plasma whose magnetic field has a different source. The two plasmas end up separated by a boundary, the magnetopause, and the Earth's plasma is confined to a cavity inside the flowing solar wind, the magnetosphere. The isolation is not complete, thanks to secondary processes such as magnetic reconnection
Magnetic reconnection
Magnetic reconnection is a physical process in highly conducting plasmas in which the magnetic topology is rearranged and magnetic energy is converted to kinetic energy, thermal energy, and particle acceleration...

—otherwise it would be hard for the solar wind to transmit much energy to the magnetosphere—but it still determines the overall configuration.

An additional feature is a collision-free bow shock
Bow shock
A bow shock is the area between a magnetosphere and an ambient medium. For stars, this is typically the boundary between their stellar wind and the interstellar medium....

 which forms in the solar wind ahead of Earth, typically at 13.5 RE on the sunward side. It forms because the solar velocity of the wind exceeds (typically 2–3 times) that of Alfvén waves, a family of characteristic waves with which disturbances propagate in a magnetized fluid. In the region behind the shock ("magnetosheath") the velocity drops briefly to the Alfvén velocity (and the temperature rises, absorbing lost kinetic energy), but the velocity soon rises back as plasma is dragged forward by the surrounding solar wind flow.

To understand the magnetosphere, one needs to visualize its magnetic field lines
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

, that everywhere point in the direction of the magnetic field—e.g., diverging out near the magnetic north pole (or geographic southpole), and converging again around the magnetic south pole (or the geographic northpole), where they enter the Earth. They can be visualized like wires which tie the magnetosphere together—wires that also guide the motions
Guiding center
In many cases of practical interest, the motion in a magnetic field of an electrically charged particle can be treated as the superposition of a relatively fast circular motion around a point called the guiding center and a relatively slow drift of this point...

 of trapped particles, which slide along them like beads (though other motions may also occur).

Radiation belts



When the first scientific satellites were launched in the first half of 1958—Explorers 1 and 3
Explorer 3
Explorer 3 was an artificial satellite of the Earth, nearly identical to the first United States artificial satellite Explorer 1 in its design and mission...

 by the US, Sputnik 3
Sputnik 3
Sputnik 3 was a Soviet satellite launched on May 15, 1958 from Baikonur cosmodrome by a modified R-7/SS-6 ICBM. It was a research satellite to explore the upper atmosphere and the near space, and carried a large array of instruments for geophysical research....

 by the Soviet Union—they observed an intense (and unexpected) radiation belt
Van Allen radiation belt
The Van Allen radiation belt is a torus of energetic charged particles around Earth, which is held in place by Earth's magnetic field. It is believed that most of the particles that form the belts come from solar wind, and other particles by cosmic rays. It is named after its discoverer, James...

 around Earth, held by its magnetic field. "My God, Space is Radioactive!" exclaimed one of Van Allen
James Van Allen
James Alfred Van Allen was an American space scientist at the University of Iowa.The Van Allen radiation belts were named after him, following the 1958 satellite missions in which Van Allen had argued that a Geiger counter should be used to detect charged particles.- Life and career :* September...

's colleagues, when the meaning of those observations was realized. That was the "inner radiation belt" of protons with energies in the range 10-100 MeV (megaelectronvolts), attributed later to "albedo neutron decay," a secondary effect of the interaction of cosmic radiation with the upper atmosphere. It is centered on field lines crossing the equator about 1.5 RE from the Earth's center.

Later a population of trapped ions and electrons was observed on field lines crossing the equator at 2.5–8 RE. The high-energy part of that population (about 1 MeV) became known as the "outer radiation belt", but its bulk is at lower energies (peak about 65 keV) and is identified as the ring current
Ring current
A ring current is an electric current carried by charged particles trapped in a planet's magnetosphere. It is caused by the longitudinal drift of energetic particles.-Earth's ring current:...

 plasma.

The trapping of charged particles in a magnetic field can be quite stable. This is particularly true in the inner belt, because the build-up of trapped protons from albedo neutrons is quite slow, requiring years to reach observed intensities. In July 1962, the United States tested a thermonuclear weapon
Starfish Prime
Starfish Prime was a high-altitude nuclear test conducted by the United States of America on July 9, 1962, a joint effort of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Defense Atomic Support Agency ....

 high over the South Pacific at around 400 km in the upper atmosphere, in this region, creating an artificial belt of high-energy electrons, and some of them were still around 4–5 years later (such tests are now banned by treaty).

The outer belt and ring current are less persistent, because charge-exchange collisions with atoms of the geocorona (see above) tends to remove their particles. That suggests the existence of an effective source mechanism, continually supplying this region with fresh plasma. It turns out that the magnetic barrier can be broken down by electric forces, as discussed in Magnetic Storms and Plasma Flows (MSPF). If plasma is pushed hard enough, it generates electric field
Electric field
In physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding...

s which allow it to move in response to the push, often (not always) deforming the magnetic field in the process.

Magnetic tails


A magnetic tail or magnetotail is formed by pressure from the solar wind on a planet's magnetosphere. The magnetotail can extend great distances away from its originating planet. Earth's magnetic tail extends at least 200 Earth radii in the anti-sunward direction well beyond the orbit of the Moon at about 60 Earth radii, while Jupiter's magnetic tail extends beyond the orbit of Saturn. On occasion Saturn is immersed inside the Jovian
Jovian
Jovian , was Roman Emperor from 363 to 364. Upon the death of emperor Julian during his campaign against the Sassanid Persians, Jovian was hastily declared emperor by his soldiers...

 magnetosphere.

The extended magnetotail results from the energy stored in the planet's magnetic field. At times this energy is released and the magnetic field becomes temporarily more dipole
Dipole
In physics, there are several kinds of dipoles:*An electric dipole is a separation of positive and negative charges. The simplest example of this is a pair of electric charges of equal magnitude but opposite sign, separated by some distance. A permanent electric dipole is called an electret.*A...

-like. As it does so that stored energy goes to energize plasma trapped on the involved magnetic field lines. Some of that plasma is driven tailward and into the distant solar wind. The rest is injected into the inner magnetosphere where it results in the aurora and the ring current plasma population. The resulting energetic plasma and electric currents can disrupt spacecraft operations, communication and navigation.

Electric currents in space


Magnetic fields in the magnetosphere arise from the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's internal magnetic field as well as from electric currents that flow in the magnetospheric plasma: the plasma acts as an electromagnet
Electromagnet
An electromagnet is a type of magnet in which the magnetic field is produced by the flow of electric current. The magnetic field disappears when the current is turned off...

. Magnetic fields from currents that circulate in the magnetospheric plasma extend the Earth's magnetism much further in space than would be predicted from the Earth's internal field alone. Such currents also determine the field's structure far from Earth, creating the regions described in the introduction above.

Unlike in a conventional resistive electric circuit, where currents are best thought of as arising as a response to an applied voltage, currents in the magnetosphere are better seen as caused by the structure and motion of the plasma in its associated magnetic field. For instance, electrons and positive ions trapped in the dipole-like field near the Earth tend to circulate around the magnetic axis of the dipole (the line connecting the magnetic poles) in a ring around the Earth, without gaining or losing energy (this is known as Guiding center
Guiding center
In many cases of practical interest, the motion in a magnetic field of an electrically charged particle can be treated as the superposition of a relatively fast circular motion around a point called the guiding center and a relatively slow drift of this point...

 motion). Viewed from above the magnetic north pole (geographic south), ions circulate clockwise, electrons counterclockwise, producing a net circulating clockwise current, known (from its shape) as the ring current
Ring current
A ring current is an electric current carried by charged particles trapped in a planet's magnetosphere. It is caused by the longitudinal drift of energetic particles.-Earth's ring current:...

. No voltage is needed—the current arises naturally from the motion of the ions and electrons in the magnetic field.

Any such current will modify the magnetic field. The ring current, for instance, strengthens the field on its outside, helping expand the size of the magnetosphere. At the same time, it weakens the magnetic field in its interior. In a magnetic storm, plasma is added to the ring current, making it temporarily stronger, and the field at Earth is observed to weaken by up to 1-2%.

The deformation of the magnetic field, and the flow of electric currents in it, are intimately linked, making it often hard to label one as cause and the other as effect. Frequently (as in the magnetopause and the magnetotail) it is intuitively more useful to regard the distribution and flow of plasma as the primary effect, producing the observed magnetic structure, with the associated electric currents just one feature of those structures, more of a consistency requirement of the magnetic structure.

As noted, one exception (at least) exists, a case where voltages do drive currents. That happens with Birkeland current
Birkeland current
A Birkeland current is a set of currents which flow along geomagnetic field line connecting the Earth’s magnetosphere to the Earth's high latitude ionosphere. They are a specific class of magnetic field-aligned currents. Lately, the term Birkeland currents has been expanded by some authors to...

s, which flow from distant space into the near-polar ionosphere, continue at least some distance in the ionosphere, and then return to space. (Part of the current then detours and leaves Earth again along field lines on the morning side, flows across midnight as part of the ring current, then comes back to the ionosphere along field lines on the evening side and rejoins the pattern.) The full circuit of those currents, under various conditions, is still under debate.

Because the ionosphere is an ohmic conductor of sorts, such flow will heat it up. It will also create secondary Hall currents, and accelerate magnetospheric particles—electrons in the arcs of the polar aurora, and singly ionized oxygen ions (O+) which contribute to the ring current.

Classification of magnetic fields



Regardless of whether they are viewed as sources or consequences of the magnetospheric field structure, electric currents flow in closed circuits. That makes them useful for classifying different parts of the magnetic field of the magnetosphere, each associated with a distinct type of circuit. In this way the field of the magnetosphere is often resolved into 5 distinct parts, as follows.
  1. The internal field of the Earth ("main field") arising from electric currents in the core. It is dipole-like, modified by higher harmonic contributions.
  2. The ring current
    Ring current
    A ring current is an electric current carried by charged particles trapped in a planet's magnetosphere. It is caused by the longitudinal drift of energetic particles.-Earth's ring current:...

     field, carried by plasma trapped in the dipole-like field around Earth, typically at distances 3–8 RE (less during large storms). Its current flows (approximately) around the magnetic equator, mainly clockwise when viewed from north. (A small counterclockwise ring current flows at the inner edge of the ring, caused by the fall-off in plasma density as Earth is approached.)
  3. The field confining the Earth's plasma and magnetic field inside the magnetospheric cavity. The currents responsible for it flow on the magnetopause, the interface between the magnetosphere and the solar wind, described in the introduction. Their flow, again, may be viewed as arising from the geometry of the magnetic field (rather than from any driving voltage), a consequence of "Ampére's law" (embodied in Maxwell's equations) which in this case requires an electric current to flow along any interface between magnetic fields of different directions and/or intensities.
  4. The system of tail currents. The magnetotail consists of twin bundles of oppositely directed magnetic field (the "tail lobes"), directed earthwards in the northern half of the tail and away from Earth in the southern half. In between the two exists a layer ("plasma sheet") of denser plasma (0.3-0.5 ions/cm3 versus 0.01-0.02 in the lobes), and because of the difference between the adjoining magnetic fields, by Ampére's law an electric current flows there too, directed from dawn to dusk. The flow closes (as it must) by following the tail magnetopause—part over the northern lobe, part over the southern one.
  5. The Birkeland current field (and its branches in the ionosphere and ring current), a circuit is associated with the polar aurora. Unlike the 3 preceding current systems, it does require a constant input of energy, to provide the heating of its ionospheric path and the acceleration of auroral electrons and of positive ions. The energy probably comes from a dynamo process, meaning that part of the circuit threads a plasma moving relative to Earth, either in the solar wind and in "boundary layer" flows which it drives just inside the magnetopause, or by plasma moving earthward in the magnetotail, as observed during substorms (below).

Magnetic substorms and storms



Earlier it was stated that, "if plasma is pushed hard enough, it generates electric field
Electric field
In physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding...

s which allow it to move in response to the push, often (not always) deforming the magnetic field in the process." Two examples of such "pushing" are particularly important in the magnetosphere. The THEMIS
THEMIS (satellite)
The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission was originally a constellation of five NASA satellites to study energy releases from Earth's magnetosphere known as substorms, magnetic phenomena that intensify auroras near Earth's poles...

 mission is a NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 program to study in detail the physical processes involved in substorm
Substorm
A substorm, sometimes referred to as a magnetospheric substorm or an auroral substorm, is a brief disturbance in the Earth's magnetosphere that causes energy to be released from the "tail" of the magnetosphere and injected into the high latitude ionosphere. Visually, a substorm is seen as a sudden...

s.

The more common one occurs when the north-south component Bz of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is appreciable and points southward. In this state field lines of the magnetosphere are relatively strongly linked to the IMF, allowing energy and plasma to enter it at relatively high rates. This swells up the magnetotail and makes it unstable. Ultimately the tail's structure changes abruptly and violently, a process known as a magnetic substorm.

One possible scenario (the subject is still debated) is as follows. As the magnetotail swells, it creates a wider obstacle to the solar wind flow, causing its widening portion to be squeezed more by the solar wind. In the end, this squeezing breaks apart field lines in the plasma sheet ("magnetic reconnection
Magnetic reconnection
Magnetic reconnection is a physical process in highly conducting plasmas in which the magnetic topology is rearranged and magnetic energy is converted to kinetic energy, thermal energy, and particle acceleration...

"), and the distant part of the sheet, no longer attached to the Earth, is swept away as an independent magnetic structure ("plasmoid
Plasmoid
A plasmoid is a coherent structure of plasma and magnetic fields. Plasmoids have been proposed to explain natural phenomena such as ball lightning, magnetic bubbles in the magnetosphere, and objects in cometary tails, in the solar wind, in the solar atmosphere, and in the heliospheric current sheet...

"). The near-Earth part snaps back earthwards, energizing its particles and producing Birkeland currents and bright auroras. As observed in the 1970s by the ATS satellites at 6.6 RE, when conditions are favorable that can happen up to several times a day.

Substorms generally do not substantially add to the ring current. That happens in magnetic storms, when following an eruption on the sun (a "coronal mass ejection" or a "solar flare"—details are still debated, see MSPF) a fast-moving plasma cloud hits the Earth. If the IMF has a southward component, this not only pushes the magnetopause boundary closer to Earth (at times to about half its usual distance), but it also produces an injection of plasma from the tail, much more vigorous than the one associated with substorms.

The plasma population of the ring current may now grow substantially, and a notable part of the addition consists of O+ oxygen ions extracted from the ionosphere as a by-product of the polar aurora. In addition, the ring current is driven earthward (which energizes its particles further), temporarily modifying the field around the Earth and thus shifting the aurora (and its current system) closer to the equator. The magnetic disturbance may decay within 1–3 days as many ions are removed by charge exchange, but the higher energies of the ring current can persist much longer.

Other bodies


Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, with little or no magnetic field is thought to have lost much of its former oceans and atmosphere to space in part due to the direct impact of the solar wind. Venus
Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

 with its thick atmosphere is thought to have lost most of its water to space in large part owing to solar wind ablation.

Due to the size of Jupiter's magnetosphere there is a possibility of very weak and very brief seasonal head-tail interaction between Earth's and Jupiter's magnetospheres. The magnetospheres of the outer gas planets may weakly interact, although their magnetospheres are much smaller than Jupiter's.

See also


  • Io (moon)#Interaction with Jupiter's magnetosphere
  • International Magnetospheric Study
    International Magnetospheric Study
    The International Magnetospheric Study was proposed in 1970 as a concerted effort to acquire coordinated ground-based, balloon, rocket, and satellite data needed to improve our understanding of the behavior of earth's plasma environment....

  • Magnetic sail
    Magnetic sail
    A magnetic sail or magsail is a proposed method of spacecraft propulsion which would use a static magnetic field to deflect charged particles radiated by the Sun as a plasma wind, and thus impart momentum to accelerate the spacecraft...

     for applications in spacecraft propulsion
    Spacecraft propulsion
    Spacecraft propulsion is any method used to accelerate spacecraft and artificial satellites. There are many different methods. Each method has drawbacks and advantages, and spacecraft propulsion is an active area of research. However, most spacecraft today are propelled by forcing a gas from the...

  • Plasma physics

External links