Gone With the Plasmaspheric Wind

¡Viva la Science!

Inside the space donut we call home
Inside the space donut we call home
Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Researchers using data from the European Space Agency's Cluster spacecraft have found evidence that a “plasmaspheric wind” is releasing a kilogram (over two pounds) of plasma from the plasmasphere into the magnetosphere every second.

I swear you’re not reading an X-Men comic. Supervillains do not appear to be involved. Yet.

The plasmasphere is a region of dense, cold plasma that surrounds the Earth. Filled with charged particles, it’s shaped like a donut and forms the inner part of the magnetosphere, the area around our planet controlled by the magnetic field.

The existence of plasmaspheric wind was theorized over two decades ago, but it’s difficult to detect. It requires fancy instrumentation and detailed measurements of moving particles in the plasmasphere. Now, the four Cluster spacecraft have provided ion measurements from the plasmasphere that support the plasmaspheric wind theory.

We need to understand what’s going on in the plasmasphere because of its effect on things like satellites, GPS and traveling astronauts. Presumably, we also need to keep one step ahead of Magneto.


Source: “Cluster spacecraft detects elusive space wind”