NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, has discovered a new type of magnetic process in the near-Earth environment, by which magnetic field lines explosively reconfigure occurring in a new and surprising way. Magnetic process is one of the most significant processes in the space that is filled with charged particles known as plasma around Earth, said researchers at the University of California, Berkeley in the US.
Earth’s magnetic field creates a protective bubble that shields scientists from highly energetic particles that stream in both from the Sun and interstellar space.
Scientists have observed this phenomenon many times in Earth’s massive magnetic environment, the magnetosphere. Now, a new study of data from the MMS mission caught the process occurring in a new and unexpected region of near-Earth space. For the first time, magnetic reconnection was seen in the magnetosheath — the boundary between their magnetosphere and the solar wind that flows throughout the solar system and one of the most turbulent regions in near-Earth space.
NASA mentioned “The data shows that this event is unlike the magnetic reconnection we’ve observed before. If we think of these magnetic field lines as elastic bands, the ones in this region are much smaller and stretchier than elsewhere in near-Earth space — meaning that this process accelerates particles 40 times faster than typical magnetic reconnection near Earth. In short, MMS spotted a completely new magnetic process that is much faster than what we’ve seen before”.
Besides, this observation holds clues to what is happening at smaller spatial scales, where turbulence takes over the process of mixing and accelerating particles. Turbulence in space moves in random ways and creates vortices, much like when humans mix milk into coffee. The process by which turbulence energizes particles in space is still a big area of research, and linking this new discovery to turbulence research may give insights into how magnetic energy powers particle jets in space.