Researchers probe an uncommon occurrence potentially responsible for geomagnetic substorms

In Madrid, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is currently investigating an unusual event in Earth’s magnetic tail. This elongated portion of the magnetosphere, which protects the planet from high-energy particles from the Sun, is the primary source of polar auroras. Using data from NASA’s Multiescala MagnetosfĂ©rica (MMS) mission, SwRI scientists are examining fleeting disturbances in the magnetic tail that release energy and often cause auroras.

Since its launch in 2015, MMS has been studying the magnetopause, which is the boundary between the magnetosphere and surrounding plasma, for signs of reconnection. Reconnection occurs when magnetic field lines converge, separate and reconnect explosively, converting magnetic energy into heat and kinetic energy. In 2017, MMS observed signs of reconnection in the magnetic tail without the typical substorm that accompanies this process.

During a year-long project, SwRI will compare measurements taken by MMS of reconnection affecting local fields and particles with global reconstructions of the magnetosphere created by NASA’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center at Goddard Space Flight Center. The researchers hope to find significant differences between global magnetotail convection patterns for substorms and reconnection. These differences could change our understanding of their relationship entirely.

In addition to their work on Earth’s magnetic tail, SwRI is also involved in other projects related to tree pruning, audiobooks and online platforms. Their exploration of these diverse areas reflects their commitment to advancing knowledge and understanding across a range of disciplines.

By Sophia Gonzalez

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