Giant Veil of "Cold Plasma" Discovered High Above Earth
2013-02-06 0:00

By Dave Mosher | NationalGeographic



Clouds of charged particles stretch a quarter the way to the moon, experts say.

Clouds of "cold plasma" reach from the top of Earth’s atmosphere to at least a quarter the distance to the moon, according to new data from a cluster of European satellites.

Earth generates cold plasma—slow-moving charged particles—at the edge of space, where sunlight strips electrons from gas atoms, leaving only their positively charged cores, or nuclei.

(Find out how cold plasma might also help explain why Mars is missing its atmosphere.)

Researchers had suspected these hard-to-detect particles might influence incoming space weather, such as this week’s solar flare and resulting geomagnetic storm. That’s because solar storms barrage Earth with similar but high-speed charged particles.

Still, no one could be certain what the effects of cold plasma might be without a handle on its true abundance around our planet.

"It’s like the weather forecast on TV. It’s very complicated to make a reasonable forecast without the basic variables," said space scientist Mats André, of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics.

"Discovering this cold plasma is like saying, Oh gosh, there are oceans here that affect our weather," he said.

The Trick to Finding Cold Plasma

Researchers already knew that some cold plasma existed in the ionosphere, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. But few researchers had looked for the clouds between 12,400 and 60,000 miles (20,000 and 100,000 kilometers) high.

André and his colleague Chris Cully suspected the plasma could be out there, but they knew the positive charge of spacecraft wasn’t helping any search efforts.

Similar to the way cold plasma is created, sunlight strips electrons from spacecraft materials, making their hulls positively charged. Like two matching magnetic poles, a spacecraft would simply repulse any cold plasma around it.

To find the stuff, André and Cully instead analyzed anomalies in data from the European Space Agency’s Cluster II spacecraft.

This group of four satellites swings around Earth in a highly elliptical orbit. At the orbit’s peak, the probes reach nearly halfway to the moon.

The enormous distance gives researchers a chance to sweep through and monitor Earth’s magnetic field and electrical activity, including the influence of "hot" charged particles emitted by the sun.

Anomalies in the Cluster II data turned out to be shockwaves from cold plasma particles moving around the satellites.

Cold Plasma a Space Weather "Elephant"

In the end, the pair found that cold plasma makes up between 50 and 70 percent of all charged particles within the farther reaches of Earth’s magnetic field.

André says it’s now time to start updating space-weather models to take the extra cold plasma into account—at this point, for instance, nothing is known about how the plasma might affect solar storms.

This influence is "not a minor thing in space weather," André said. "It’s an elephant in the room."

Article from: news.nationalgeographic.com



Related Articles
Cold Plasma Kills Bacteria Better Than Antibiotics


Latest News from our Front Page

Facebook completes first drone flight above UK, Mark Zuckerberg confirms
2015-03-28 3:15
Solar powered drones which provide internet access to rural and remote areas have been trialled in UK for first time by Facebook. They “have a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car”, according to the social network's chief Mark Zuckerberg. The drones, developed by Somerset-based company Ascenta which Facebook bought last March, will beam down laser-guided ...
300 Young English Girls (and a few Boys) Groomed and Assaulted by Oxfordshire "Gangs," Report Finds
2015-03-28 2:04
Editor's note: This story is a few days old now but the echoes of Rotherham just keeps coming. A few weeks ago there was Halifax, now Britain proudly can add Oxfordshire to their line up of diversity success stories. Below is the story from the telegraph: Serious case review finds failings by police and social services as it identifies hundreds of victims A ...
British POW describes the horror of the bombing of Dresden
2015-03-28 0:33
Partial Transcript of Interview with Victor Gregg, WW2 British solder and POW: Interviewer: "Tell us how it was that you were in Dresden at that time." Victor Gregg: "It was evil....thousands of firebombs dropping all over the place, heat, fire, people screaming, people burning, people alight. After about half an hour it started developing into something that was really bad....It was ...
Rape of 285,000 German Women at the End of WWII Trigger Damage Control by Mainstream Media
2015-03-27 20:25
Is Exposing Allied War Crimes an honorable act? No, it’s slandering heroes according to Daily Mail A recent article from the Daily Mail that pretends to look at the post WWII crimes and rapes of the Allies against the German people is actually damage control. It’s really an attempt to divert away from the true horrors that was visited upon Germany ...
Minister of Migration attacked by asylum seeker with fire extinguisher
2015-03-27 2:12
Sweden’s Minister of Justice & Migration also known as Morgan “only 1%” Johansson, has been attacked with a fire extinguisher when he visited an asylum home for future Swedes. Regional newspaper, Kristiandstadsbladet reported that a man who had been living at the home for a couple of weeks grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed foam all over the minister who didn’t ...
More News »