Explosions in the sky – magnetic reconnection

“They laughed when I sat down to play the piano.” Remember that old ad?

And they laughed when I wrote that explosions wracked the skies above the mammoth’s heads during the Gothenburg magnetic reversal (in Magnetic Reversals and Evolutionary Leaps).

Well, here’s an article from NASA that shows how feasible that scenario really is.

Above: Artist’s concept of the four MMS spacecraft
flying in formation through the space around Earth.
Credit: Southwest Research Institute

31 Aug 09  – “Magnetic reconnection could be the Universe’s favorite way to make things explode,” says the article posted today on NASA’s webpage. “It operates anywhere magnetic fields pervade space–which is to say almost everywhere.

On the sun magnetic reconnection causes solar flares as powerful as a billion atomic bombs. In Earth’s atmosphere, it fuels magnetic storms and auroras. In laboratories, it can cause big problems in fusion reactors. It’s ubiquitous.

As powerful as a billion atomic bombs!

“The problem is, researchers can’t explain it.

“The basics are clear enough. Magnetic lines of force cross, cancel, reconnect and—Bang! Magnetic energy is unleashed in the form of heat and charged-particle kinetic energy.

And bang! Radioactivity to cause those evolutionary leaps.

“But how? How does the simple act of crisscrossing magnetic field lines trigger such a ferocious explosion?

“Something very interesting and fundamental is going on that we don’t really understand — not from laboratory experiments or from simulations,” says Melvyn Goldstein, chief of the Geospace Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“NASA is going to launch a mission to get to the bottom of the mystery. It’s called MMS, short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, and it consists of four spacecraft which will fly through Earth’s magnetosphere to study reconnection in action. The mission passed its preliminary design review in May 2009 and was approved for implementation in June 2009. Engineers can now start building the spacecraft.

“Earth’s magnetosphere is a wonderful natural laboratory for studying reconnection,” says mission scientist Jim Burch of the Southwest Research Institute. “It is big, roomy, and reconnection is taking place there almost non-stop.”

“In the outer layers of the magnetosphere, where Earth’s magnetic field meets the solar wind, reconnection events create temporary magnetic “portals” connecting Earth to the sun. Inside the magnetosphere, in a long drawn-out structure called “the magnetotail,” reconnection propels high-energy plasma clouds toward Earth, triggering Northern Lights when they hit. There are many other examples, and MMS will explore them all.

“The four spacecraft will be built at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “Each observatory is shaped like a giant hockey puck, about 12 feet in diameter and 4 feet in height,” says Karen Halterman, MMS Project Manager at Goddard.

See entire article, originally entitled “Honey, I Blew up the Tokamak,” by Dr. Tony Phillips

Thanks to Hans Schreuder for this link

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