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Dec. 16, 2008: NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to "load up" the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.
"At first I didn't believe it," says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction."
"The opening was huge—four times wider than Earth itself," says Wenhui Li, a space physicist at the University of New Hampshire who has been analyzing the data. Li's colleague Jimmy Raeder, also of New Hampshire, says "1027 particles per second were flowing into the magnetosphere—that's a 1 followed by 27 zeros. This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible."
Scientists have found two large leaks in Earth's magnetosphere, the region around our planet that shields us from severe solar storms.
The leaks are defying many of scientists' previous ideas on how the interaction between Earth's magnetosphere and solar wind occurs: The leaks are in an unexpected location, let in solar particles in faster than expected and the whole interaction works in a manner that is completely the opposite of what scientists had thought.
The findings have implications for how solar storms affect the our planet. Serious storms, which involved charged particles spewing from the sun, can disable satellites and even disrupt power grids on Earth.
The new observations "overturn the way that we understand how the sun's magnetic field interacts with the Earth's magnetic field," said David Sibeck of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., during a press conference today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
The bottom line: When the next peak of solar activity comes, in about 4 years, electrical systems on Earth and satellites in space may be more vulnerable.
Originally posted by kosmicjack
This would worry me a bit anyway, but coming from Zorgon it really has me concerned. And peaking in 2012 to boot...
Originally posted by infolurker
Anyone have any ideas if this could be due to the solar inactivity or if this has happened before?
The beauty of science is that nothing is for certain. There are times when scientists think they have something figured out and then nature throws them for a loop. Just such an event happened last fall when the Sun erupted in some massive, record-shattering explosions that hurled billion of tons of electrified gas toward Earth.
Scientists realize that space is dangerous for unprotected satellites and astronauts, but they thought that they had found a small safe zone around Earth's radiation belt -- a shelter from these dangerous solar storms. It turns out that when the solar storm is strong enough, even this safe zone can become a major hot zone for dangerous radiation.
Originally posted by BlackProjects
If the magnetic field is breached then we are vulnerable to high energy cosmic rays which can lead to the destruction of cellular tissue..which in turn can lead to cancer. This is the same problem facing an extended trip to say Mars. In other words we could be toast
From August 28th until September 2nd, 1859, numerous sunspots and solar flares were observed on the sun, the largest flare occurring on the 1st. A massive CME headed directly at Earth due to the solar flare and made it within eighteen hours—-a trip that normally takes three to four days. On September 1st and 2nd, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm occurred. Telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe shorted out, some even causing fires. Auroras were seen as far south as Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba, and Italy—phenomena that are usually only seen near the poles. This was the 1859 solar superstorm.
On 13 March 1989 a severe geomagnetic storm caused the collapse of the Hydro-Québec power grid in a matter of seconds as equipment protection relays tripped in a cascading sequence of events . Six million people were left without power for nine hours, with significant economic loss. The storm even caused auroras as far south as Texas . The geomagnetic storm causing this event was itself the result of a Coronal Mass Ejection, ejected from the Sun on March 9, 1989.
In August 1989, another storm affected microchips, leading to a halt of all trading on Toronto's stock market .
Since 1989, power companies in North America, the UK, Northern Europe and elsewhere evaluated the risks of geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) and developed mitigation strategies.
Since 1995, geomagnetic storms and solar flares have been monitored from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) joint-NASA-European Space Agency satellite.