Scientists pinpoint the impact epicenter of earthbound space storms

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Washington, May 29 (ANI): Using data from NASA's THEMIS mission, a team of University of Alberta researchers has pinpointed the impact epicenter of an earthbound space storm as it crashes into the atmosphere, and given an advance warning of its arrival.

The team's study reveals that magnetic blast waves can be used to pinpoint and predict the location where space storms dissipate their massive amounts of energy.

These storms can dump the equivalent of 50 gigawatts of power, or the output of 10 of the world's largest power stations, into Earth's atmosphere.

The energy that drives space storms originates on the Sun. The stream of electrically charged particles in the solar wind carries this energy toward Earth. The solar wind interacts with Earth's magnetic field.

Scientists call the process that begins with Earth's magnetic field capturing energy and ends with its release into the atmosphere a geomagnetic substorm.

"Substorm onset occurs when Earth's magnetic field suddenly and dramatically releases energy previously captured by the solar wind," said David Sibeck, project scientist for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms (THEMIS) mission at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Physicists Jonathan Rae and Ian Mann lead the University of Alberta research team that recently located a substorm's epicenter of the impact.

The team uses ground-based observatories spread across northern Canada and the five satellites of the THEMIS mission to detect magnetic disturbances as storms crash into the atmosphere.

Using a technique the researchers call "space seismology," they look for the eye of the storm hundreds of thousands of miles above Earth.

High-energy, electrically charged particles released by space storms can damage spacecraft.

On Earth, disturbances caused by the particles and the electrical currents they carry can interrupt radio communications and global positioning system (GPS) navigation, and damage electric power grids.

Rae and Mann's team has also determined that the magnetic tremors show that the space storm impact into the atmosphere has a unique epicenter, with the eye of the storm located in space beyond the low-Earth orbits of most communication satellites.

Guided by Earth's magnetic field, the magnetic tremors rocket through space toward Earth.

These geomagnetic substorms trigger magnetic sensors on the ground as they impact the atmosphere.

The effects of these storms, and the most spectacular displays of the Northern Lights, follow a few minutes later.

The objective of NASA's pioneering multi-spacecraft THEMIS mission is to determine what causes geomagnetic substorms. (ANI)

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