Dec 13, 2007

"Magnetic Ropes" links Earth to Sun

NASA scientists have made key discoveries about the northern lights, including the presence of "magnetic ropes" linking the Earth's upper atmosphere to the sun. The discoveries were reported after a fleet of satellites and ground-based stations captured "spectacular eruptions" of the mysterious phenomenon above Canada earlier this year.

The amazing findings, revealed Tuesday at meetings of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, follow the February deployment of five satellites dedicated to studying the aurora borealis, in concert with a network of 20 ground observatories across northern Canada and Alaska.

The discoveries began in March, when a powerful space "substorm" -- streams of energy from the sun interacting with Earth's magnetic field -- illuminated previously unrecorded events in the planet's upper atmosphere. The storm, lasting about two hours, took place above Canada and Alaska.

Vassilis Angelopoulos, a University of California researcher said the storm offered the first clear evidence of colossal magnetic columns -- long theorized by scientists but never before seen -- that run between Earth and the sun and offer a "conduit for energy" that manifests as bursts of northern lights. link


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