News Release

New insights into how magnetic lines around Earth reconnect

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

New Insights into How Magnetic Lines Around Earth Reconnect

image: This is a sketch of the Earth's magnetosphere showing where reconnection occurs between oppositely-directed magnetic fields. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the May 13, 2016, issue of <i>Science</i>, published by AAAS. The paper, by J.L. Burch at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, TX, and colleagues was titled, "Electron-scale measurements of magnetic reconnection in space." view more 

Credit: James Burch

High-resolution measurements from NASA spacecraft have unraveled the mysteries of magnetic reconnection around Earth - a phenomenon whereby magnetic field lines break and reconnect, releasing energy and accelerating particles. Because of the importance of magnetic reconnection in many laboratory and space environments, this result has opened up a new window into this universal process, the authors say, one that is otherwise poorly understood. The magnetosphere is the region of space surrounding Earth where the dominant magnetic field is the magnetic field of Earth, rather than the magnetic field of interplanetary space. Field lines in Earth's magnetic field rearrange and reconnect, and a better understanding of this process is an important goal for plasma physics. While the Earth's magnetosphere has been explored by many spacecraft missions, measurements of magnetic reconnection on the electron scale are lacking. As such, scientists still don't fully understand what causes reconnection. In March 2015, NASA launched four spacecraft as part of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, which was designed to perform a high-resolution space experiment on magnetic reconnection at the electron scale. James Burch and colleagues analyzed the results and determined the reconnection process is driven by the electron-scale dynamics. The results will aid scientists' understanding of magnetized plasmas, including those in fusion reactors, the solar atmosphere, and magnetospheres of the Earth and other planets.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.