With NASA Data, Researchers Find Standing Waves at Edge of Earth’s Magnetic Bubble

  • Released Wednesday, October 6th, 2021
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:43PM

Earth sails the solar system in a ship of its own making: the magnetosphere, the magnetic field that envelops and protects our planet. The celestial sea we find ourselves in is filled with charged particles flowing from the Sun, known as the solar wind. Just as ocean waves follow the wind, scientists expected that waves traveling along the magnetosphere should ripple in the direction of the solar wind. But a new study reveals some waves do just the opposite.

Studying these magnetospheric waves, which transport energy, helps scientists understand the complicated ways that solar activity plays out in the space around Earth. Changing conditions in space driven by the Sun are known as space weather. That weather can impact our technology from communications satellites in orbit to power lines on the ground. “Understanding the boundaries of any system is a key problem,” said Martin Archer, a space physicist at Imperial College London who led the new study, published today in Nature Communications. “That’s how stuff gets in: energy, momentum, matter.”

GIFAn animated illustration of magnetospheric waves, in light blue. At the front of the magnetosphere, these waves appear to be still.Credits: Martin Archer/Emmanuel Masongsong/NASA

GIF

An animated illustration of magnetospheric waves, in light blue. At the front of the magnetosphere, these waves appear to be still.

Credits: Martin Archer/Emmanuel Masongsong/NASA

ImageAn illustration of magnetospheric waves, in light blue. At the front of the magnetosphere, these waves appear to be still.Credits: Martin Archer/Emmanuel Masongsong

Image

An illustration of magnetospheric waves, in light blue. At the front of the magnetosphere, these waves appear to be still.

Credits: Martin Archer/Emmanuel Masongsong

Model Simulation

In this video, you can see and listen to standing waves at the edge of the magnetosphere. Data from the model has been translated into audio frequencies and stretched in time. The video shows Earth's magnetosphere depicted as a thick black line, surrounding Earth, which is represented by a black-and-white circle for night and day. The left panel of the video shows a view looking down on Earth's north pole. The right panel presents a view that slices through Earth's magnetosphere, down the north and south poles.

The colors in the video indicate the strength of the magnetic field within the magnetosphere, which changes as it vibrates. Red shows where the magnetic field grows stronger, while blue shows where it weakens. The strong colors at the beginning of the video are associated with the traveling waves that form immediately after a powerful punch from the solar wind. Around 15 minutes, the movement slows, and the red-and-blue pattern persists—these are the standing waves.

The audio conveys the sound of the magnetosphere as its edge vibrates like a drum, following a strong pulse from the solar wind. After the strike from the solar wind, you first hear higher-frequency waves. The high-pitch audio soon dies out and is quickly replaced by a lower pitch—the standing waves that persist longer at the edge of the magnetosphere.

Credit: Martin Archer/CCMC/NASA

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center


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