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NASA Spacecraft Finds New Type of Magnetic Explosion

NASA probe finds new magnetic process in turbulent space

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NASA charts roadmap for human missions to Moon, Mars. Pixabay
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Scientists working with a NASA probe that investigates how the Sun’s and Earth’s magnetic fields connect and disconnect have uncovered a new type of magnetic event in our near-Earth environment.

Launched in 2015, the Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, consists of four identical spacecraft that orbit around Earth through the dynamic magnetic system surrounding our planet to study a little-understood phenomenon called magnetic reconnection.

Magnetic reconnection is a phenomenon unique to plasma, that is, the mix of positively and negatively charged particles that make up the stars, fill space and account for an estimated 99 per cent of the observable universe.

The new discovery, detailed in the journal Nature, found reconnection where it has never been seen before — in turbulent plasma. For the study the scientists used an innovative technique to squeeze extra information out of the data.

“In the plasma universe, there are two important phenomena: magnetic reconnection and turbulence,” said Tai Phan, a senior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author on the paper.

“This discovery bridges these two processes,” Phan said.

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NASA. (Wikimedia Commons)

The finding of reconnection in turbulence has implications, for example, for studies on the Sun.

It may help scientists understand the role magnetic reconnection plays in heating the inexplicably hot solar corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — and accelerating the supersonic solar wind.

Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important processes in the space around Earth.

This fundamental process dissipates magnetic energy and propels charged particles, both of which contribute to a dynamic space weather system that scientists want to better understand, and even someday predict.

Also Read: Flying Cars get Uber Boost From Research Pact with NASA

Reconnection occurs when crossed magnetic field lines snap, explosively flinging away nearby particles at high speeds.

Magnetic reconnection has been observed innumerable times in the magnetosphere — the magnetic environment around Earth — but usually under calm conditions.

The new event occurred in a region called the magnetosheath, just outside the outer boundary of the magnetosphere, where the solar wind is extremely turbulent.

Previously, scientists did not know if reconnection could even occur there, as the plasma is highly chaotic in that region. MMS found it does. (IANS)

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New Gamma-Ray Collection Named After Hulk, Godzilla: NASA

Since 2008, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been scanning the entire sky each day, mapping and measuring sources of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the universe.

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NASA names new gamma-ray constellations after Godzilla, Hulk. Pixabay

NASA has used certain characters from modern myths such as the “Hulk” and “Godzilla” to name its new set of 21 gamma-ray constellations constructed in celebration of its Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope’s 10th year of operations.

Fermi has mapped about 3,000 gamma-ray sources — 10 times the number known before its launch and comparable to the number of bright stars in the traditional constellations.

“For the first time ever, the number of known gamma-ray sources was comparable to the number of bright stars, so we thought a new set of constellations was a great way to illustrate the point,” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Elizabeth Ferrara who led the constellation project said in a statement.

Gamma-ray constellation
The background shows the gamma-ray sky as mapped by Fermi. The prominent reddish band is the plane of our own galaxy, the Milky Way; brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. NASA

 

“Developing these unofficial constellations was a fun way to highlight a decade of Fermi’s accomplishments,” Julie McEnery, the Fermi project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said.

Comic book fans who know the backstory of Hulk, the big, green, angry alter ego of Bruce Banner, whose experiments with gamma rays went terribly wrong, could easily appreciate NASA’s pick in naming one of its constellations.

Gamma rays are the strongest form of light. They pack enough punch to convert into matter under the right circumstances, a transformation both Banner and the Hulk would certainly appreciate.

NASA’s choice of Godzilla constellation is linked to its trademark weapon “heat ray,” a fiery jet. This bears at least a passing resemblance to gamma-ray jets associated with black holes and neutron stars.

Gamma-ray constellation
NASA names new gamma-ray constellations after Godzilla, Hulk

 

Godzilla ranks as one of cinema’s most famous monsters and is among the most recognisable symbols of Japanese popular culture.

In the original 1954 movie, nuclear weapons tests disturb the creature’s deep ocean habitat, and it emerges from the sea to wreak havoc in Japan.

The 21 gamma-ray constellations also include famous landmarks — such as Sweden’s recovered warship, Vasa, the Washington Monument and Mount Fuji in Japan — in countries contributing to Fermi science.

Since 2008, Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been scanning the entire sky each day, mapping and measuring sources of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the universe.

Also Read: NASA Plans For Science Payloads For Delivery To Moon

The emission may come from pulsars, nova outbursts, the debris of supernova explosions and giant gamma-ray bubbles located in our own galaxy, or supermassive black holes and gamma-ray bursts — the most powerful explosions in the cosmos — in others.

“Fermi is still going strong, and we are now preparing a new all-sky LAT catalog,” said Jean Ballet, a Fermi team member at the French Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay.

“This will add about 2,000 sources, many varying greatly in brightness, further enriching these constellations and enlivening the high-energy sky!” (IANS)