Electromagnetic storms have the potential to affect the daily lives of people around the world and threaten satellites. A new study by NASA’s THEMIS task force suggests that the origin of magnetic storms may be closer to Earth than previously thought. This study is the first to suggest that electromagnetic storms may form near Earth, and that electromagnetic storms may overlap the orbits of weather, communications and GPS satellites. Electromagnetic storms are the cause of the Northern Lights, but they can also send harmful particles to spacecraft, potentially rendering spacecraft and satellites unusable. Under the right conditions, electromagnetic storms can cripple the power grid and interfere with radio communications.
Recent satellite observations suggest that the magnetic storm may have been caused by the reconnection of magnetic lines closer to Earth, much closer to Earth than previously thought. When the magnetic energy of the solar wind is transferred to the Earth’s magnetosphere, the magnetic line is reconnected, and in the magnetosphere, the magnetic line accumulates in the magnetosphere until it is converted into heat and particle acceleration. After decades of research, scientists aren’t sure exactly where magnetic line realignment occurs during storms.
But now three THEMIS satellites have observed magnetic line reconnection three to four times the diameter of Earth. Previously, scientists thought it was impossible to relink magnetic lines in relatively stable magnetic field structures near the Earth. However, a meteorological satellite close to Earth in geostationary orbit detected charged particles associated with magnetic storms.
The satellite proved that the realignment of near-earth magnetic lines excited ions and electrons to high energy, posing a danger to hundreds of satellites operating in orbit. The discovery will help scientists refine the magnetosphere’s response to the solar wind to issue more warnings and prepare satellites and astronauts for potentially dangerous solar storms.