New Evidence Proves Existence Of Space Wind

Reuters/NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

Reuters/NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team

 Scientists have revealed new evidence of space wind, confirming a theory proposed 20 years ago. ‘Plasmaspheric wind’ is an elusive, little understood and very real type of phenomenon.

Its existence helps scientists understand how the atmosphere protects us from violent solar winds. Proof of space wind was uncovered in a study in European Geosciences Union journal Annales Geophysicae. The so-called ‘plasmaspheric wind’ is actually created by the Earth. Essentially, an imbalance between centrifugal and pressure forces and gravitational pull causes the steady flow of ionized particles from inside the atmosphere to the magnetosphere.

The magnetosphere is the region of space surrounding the earth that is governed by the planet’s magnetic field.    “After long scrutiny of the data, there it was, a slow but steady wind, releasing about 1 kg of plasma every second into the outer magnetosphere: this corresponds to almost 90 tons every day,” said Dr Iannis Dandouras, author of the study. He added the discovery was “one of the nicest surprises I’ve ever had.”

 From the data, Dandourus calculated that the winds carry plasma (superheated gas) a day from the lower atmosphere into the magnetosphere at speeds of some 5,000 kilometers per hour. Dandourus collated data from the EU Space Agency’s Cluster mission which was launched back in 2000. The Cluster mission is made up of four satellites that monitor the relationship between the Earth’s magnetosphere and solar winds.

The study will help scientists increase their understanding of how different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere interact with each other and protect the planet from solar winds. Furthermore, the findings indicate that other planets and celestial bodies that have similar atmospheres and rotations should also generate ‘plasmasphereic wind.’ 

Vladimir Kremlev for RT

Vladimir Kremlev for RT

The violent solar winds composed of charged particles that are ejected from the Sun would be quite deadly to Earth’s inhabitants if it were not for the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. The two work in tandem to block x-rays, ultraviolet radiation and charged particles from reaching the planet’s surface. 

“[The discovery] shows how interconnected different layers of the atmosphere are in protecting Earth from solar wind,” says Dr David Neudegg from the Bureau of Meteorology’s Ionospheric Prediction Service, which monitors space weather. Researchers first proposed the idea of the existence of space wind flowing from the lower atmosphere into the magnetosphere 20 years ago, but were unable to prove their theories. Source: RT Question More


Storms In Space 


Europe sets up centre to monitor potentially dangerous space weather. EUROPE launched its first space weather coordination centre on April 3 to raise the alarm for possible satellite-sizzling solar storms that also threaten astronauts in orbit, airline passengers and electricity grids on Earth.

Though impossible to predict, a worst-case scenario mega-storm can happen at any time, leaving the world without Internet, telephones, television, electricity and air and rail transport for days on end. Limited precautions can be taken, but early warning is key, say experts at the European Space Agency (ESA) which runs the centre from Brussels.

“A pilot can always land a plane… because they have alternatives (to satellites) for navigation, but if they get the disturbance without warning, at the wrong time, that can be dangerous,” said Juha-Pekka Luntama, head of ESA’s space weather division. Even a slight satellite glitch can put navigation out by 100 metres – enough to miss a runway. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere protect the planet from radiation released during solar flares and geomagnetic storms, some of the most severe forms of space weather.

Smaller eruptions usually have little noticeable effect, perhaps slight problems with car navigation systems or mobile phones. But a major solar storm on the scale of an event in 1859 that crippled global telegraph systems could have severe effects today. A “coronal mass ejection” – which sends electromagnetic radiation flying towards Earth at a speed of some 2,500 km (1,500 miles) per second and plays havoc with long transmission lines – caused surges on telegraph lines so strong in 1859 that offices caught fire and operators received electric shocks.

Such super storms happen “only very occasionally, perhaps once or twice a century”, according to ESA’s human spaceflight director Thomas Reiter. Luntama added that the most severe storms statistically happen around the solar maximum, the period of greatest activity in the 11-year solar cycle – which is where we are now. “In some ways you can say that the next two years is the time period that a solar event is more likely,” he said.


An 1859-like storm today could claim about 50 to 100 satellites – 10 percent of the total in orbit, at a cost of billions, according to ESA. But probably the biggest threat to Earth lies in electric power grid surges. “In the worst case, what could happen is that the transformers in the power grid are damaged and in that case, replacement of the transformers can take weeks or months,” said Luntama.

Even if only a small part of the grid is damaged, overloading in neighbouring systems can lead to more blackouts that spread in a domino effect, such as the nine-hour power blackout in Quebec in Canada in 1989. Astronauts orbiting Earth on the International Space Station (ISS), closer to the source of the radiation, could be at high risk of a severe solar storm, as could airplane crews and passengers flying over the polar regions.

Precautions would include turning off satellites to lessen the risk, reducing the load on power grids, astronauts taking cover in well-shielded parts of the ISS, and planes being diverted or even grounded if communications become unreliable. Once witnessed by space weather watchers, the fallout from a solar storm takes between 17 and 48 hours to reach Earth, depending on its severity.

The coordination centre, a central point for space weather enquiries, will draw on the expertise of dozens of European universities, research institutions and private companies.  A similar service already exists in the United States. For the moment, the ESA service – funded by 14 member states – is free. The centre started operating six months ago and is expected to be fully operational by 2020, part of a wider, multibillion-euro ESA system that also tracks objects in space that pose a collision threat. Sources:  AFP  Star Online


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