A magnetic field line is more a trajectory than an actual entity, despite being discussed as though it really exists. But they are ‘found’ in space just as they are in bar magnets.
New research describes striking similarity of laboratory research findings with observations of the four-satellite Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission that studies magnetic reconnection in space, reports ScienceDaily.
As on Earth, so in space.
A four-satellite mission that is studying magnetic reconnection — the breaking apart and explosive reconnection of the magnetic field lines in plasma that occurs throughout the universe — has found key aspects of the process in space to be strikingly similar to those found in experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).
The similarities show how the studies complement each other: The laboratory captures important global features of reconnection and the spacecraft documents local key properties as they occur.
The observations made by the Magnetospheric Multiscale Satellite (MMS) mission, which NASA launched in 2015 to study reconnection in the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, correspond quite well with past and present laboratory findings of the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at PPPL.
Previous MRX research uncovered the process by which rapid reconnection occurs and identified the amount of magnetic energy that is converted to particle energy during the process, which gives rise to northern lights, solar flares and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt cell phone service, black out power grids and damage orbiting satellites.
Guidelines for MMS measurements
The previous MRX findings served as guidelines for measurements taken by the MMS mission, which seeks to understand the region in which the reconnection of field lines in plasma — the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions — takes place. The latest PPPL experiments extend the findings to new areas of agreement.
“Despite huge differences in the size of the reconnection layers in the MRX and in space, remarkably similar characteristics are observed in both,” said Masaaki Yamada, principal investigator on the MRX, and lead author of the recent paper reporting the results in the December 6 edition of Nature Communications.
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