Four NASA spacecraft will probe the near-space environment around our planet for magnetic explosions.
In March 2015, NASA will launch four spacecraft to study how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect—a process known as magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnections take place on the day and night side of the planet and are caused by the interaction of Earth’s magnetic field with charged particles released from the sun called the solar wind. The four spacecraft, each identically engineered, make up the Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission. Flying in a pyramid-shaped configuration, the spacecraft will orbit Earth and pass through areas known to be reconnection sites. Each reconnection event unleashes a massive burst of energy that can accelerate particles within Earth’s protective magnetic environment, known as the magnetosphere, to nearly the speed of light. Sensors onboard the spacecraft will measure the energy and movement of charged particles during an event, providing scientists with the first three-dimensional look at this phenomenon. Watch the video to learn more.