Scientists discover biggest breach of Earth's solar storm shield

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Washington, Dec 17 (ANI): A NASA and National Science Foundation sponsored research has identified the biggest breach of Earth's solar storm shield, in the form of two holes that allow the largest leaks.

The research determined that Earth's magnetic field, which shields our planet from particles streaming outward from the Sun, often develops two holes that allow the largest leaks.

According to Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles, Principal Investigator for NASA's THEMIS mission (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), "The discovery overturns a long-standing belief about how and when most of the solar particles penetrate Earth's magnetic field, and could be used to predict when solar storms will be severe."

"Based on these results, we expect more severe storms during the upcoming solar cycle," he added.

THEMIS was used to discover the size of the leak.

Earth's magnetic field acts as a shield against the bombardment of particles continuously streaming from the sun. Because the solar particles (ions and electrons) are electrically charged, they feel magnetic forces and most are deflected by our planet's magnetic field.

However, our magnetic field is a leaky shield and the number of particles breaching this shield depends on the orientation of the sun's magnetic field.

It had been thought that when the sun's magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth, the door is shut and that few if any solar particles enter Earth's magnetic shield.

The door was thought to open up when the solar magnetic field direction points opposite to Earth's field, leading to more solar particles inside the shield.

Surprisingly, recent observations by the THEMIS spacecraft fleet demonstrate that the opposite is true.

"Twenty times more solar particles cross the Earth's leaky magnetic shield when the sun's magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth compared to when the two magnetic fields are oppositely directed," said Marit Oieroset of the University of California, Berkeley, lead author of one of two papers on this research. (ANI)

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