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NASA launches mission to Study Magnetic Reconnection

NASA’s four satellites successfully launched to study magnetic reconnection phenomenon. It is now reported the satellites have been positioned perfectly in the Earth’s orbit as aimed.
magnetic reconnection
In orbit, each of the four satellites will unfurl several antennae—as long as 196 feet—and eventually extend to a 94-feet tall and 396 feet wide, approximately the size of a baseball field!

On board each satellite are 25 sensors that will record in minutest detail what happens when the planet’s magnetic field lines break apart and reconnect. Data from the four probes will be combined to create three-dimensional maps of the process.

Principal MMS investigator Jim Burch, of the Southwest Research Institute, explains “For many years, researchers have looked to fusion as a clean and abundant source of energy for our planet. One approach, magnetic confinement fusion, has yielded very promising results with devices such as tokamaks. But there have been problems keeping the plasma contained in the chamber.”

Scientists are hopeful that this mission will help them better understand magnetic reconnection. It will also provide an understanding about these powerful events, which can disrupt modern technological systems such as communications networks and GPS navigation.

Burch continues, “One of the main problems is magnetic reconnection. A spectacular result of reconnection is known as the ‘sawtooth crash.’ As heat in the tokamak builds up, the electron temperature reaches a peak, then ‘crashes’ to a lower value. Some of the hot plasma escapes. This is caused by reconnection of the containment field.”

As such, NASA has launched four satellites to examine the phenomenon in a “Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission” (or MMS).

MMS is the only instrument in NASA’s arsenal dedicated to studying magnetic reconnection, which is good, because Burch expressed, “Exactly how magnetic energy is destroyed in a reconnection event is completely unknown.”

NASA added that studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, will provide an understanding about the process elsewhere, such as in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars.

NASA is spending about $1.1 billion on the project, to determine how the energy is generated and released.

About Jules D. Smith

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