Scientists explore invisible space around Earth

Washington, Dec 15 (ANI): For the very first time, NASA's spacecraft has captured images of magnetotail structures and dynamic interactions occurring in the invisible space around Earth.

Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) designed to image the invisible interactions occurring at the edge of the solar system, has captured the first image of the plasma sheet, a component of the magnetosphere made up of magnetic field lines that attach to the Earth at both ends, bottling up denser plasma (ionized gas), within the magnetotail, the trailing portion of the magnetosphere stretching backwards away from the Sun by the force of the solar wind. The image shows the plasma sheet and magnetotail in profile.

"The image alone is remarkable and would have made a great paper in and of itself because it's the first time we've imaged these important regions of the magnetosphere," said David McComas, principal investigator.

However, a closer look at the various images produced by multiple IBEX orbits revealed what appeared to be a piece of the plasma sheet being bitten off and ejected down the tail.

This magnetic disconnection phenomenon-a dynamic event where the magnetic fields "reconnect" across the plasma sheet, producing what is known as a plasmoid, is one explanation for what could be occurring in the series of images, which has never before directly seen before.

"Imagine the magnetosphere as one of those balloons that people make animals out of. If you take your hands and squeeze the balloon, the pressure forces the air into another segment of the balloon.

"Similarly, the solar wind at times increases the pressure around the magnetosphere, resulting in a portion of the plasma sheet being pinched away from the rest of the plasma sheet and forced down the magnetotail," said McComas.

The IBEX was launched in October 2008.(ANI)

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