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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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After lettuce, astronauts could grow beans in space in 2021. Pixabay

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.

NASA
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.

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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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“It Is A More Rugged Surface Than We Predicted,” NASA’s Plan to Scoop Up Dirt from Asteroid Hits Complication

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission.

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NASA
This artist's rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

NASA’s plan to scoop up dirt and gravel from an asteroid has hit a snag, but scientists say they can overcome it.

The asteroid Bennu was thought to have wide, open areas suitable for the task. But a recently arrived spacecraft revealed the asteroid is covered with boulders and there don’t seem to be any big, flat spots that could be used to grab samples.

In a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature, scientists say they plan to take a closer look at a few smaller areas that might work. They said sampling from those spots poses “a substantial challenge.”

“But I am confident this team is up to that substantial challenge,” the project’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, is scheduled to descend close to the surface in the summer of 2020. It will extend a robot arm to pick up the sample, which will be returned to Earth in 2023. The spacecraft began orbiting Bennu at the end of last year, after spending two years chasing down the space rock.

FILE - This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu.
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. VOA

When the mission was planned, scientists were aiming to take dirt and gravel from an area measuring at least 55 yards (50 meters) in diameter that was free of boulders or steep slopes, which would pose a hazard.

“It is a more rugged surface than we predicted,” said Lauretta, of the University of Arizona in Tucson and one of the paper’s authors. But he said he believed a sample could still be collected.

NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling.

Patrick Taylor, who studies asteroids at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston but didn’t participate in the spacecraft mission, noted in a telephone interview that the spacecraft was evidently maneuvering more accurately and precisely than had been expected.

“That gives me confidence they will be able to attempt a sample acquisition,” he said.

NASA
NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling. VOA

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Bennu is 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It’s estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across and is the smallest celestial body ever orbited by a spacecraft.

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission. (VOA)