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Concept: Magnetosphere


Several mammalian species spontaneously align their body axis with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field (MF) lines in diverse behavioral contexts. Magnetic alignment is a suitable paradigm to scan for the occurrence of magnetosensitivity across animal taxa with the heuristic potential to contribute to the understanding of the mechanism of magnetoreception and identify further functions of magnetosensation apart from navigation. With this in mind we searched for signs of magnetic alignment in dogs. We measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582 observations) over a two-year period. After complete sampling, we sorted the data according to the geomagnetic conditions prevailing during the respective sampling periods. Relative declination and intensity changes of the MF during the respective dog walks were calculated from daily magnetograms. Directional preferences of dogs under different MF conditions were analyzed and tested by means of circular statistics.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Magnet, Earth, Dynamo theory, Magnetism, Solar wind, Magnetosphere


Magnetic reconnection is believed to be the dominant process by which solar wind plasma enters the magnetosphere. However, for periods of northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) reconnection is less likely at the dayside magnetopause, and Kelvin-Helmholtz waves (KHWs) may be important agents for plasma entry and for the excitation of ultra-low-frequency (ULF) waves. The relative importance of KHWs is controversial because no statistical data on their occurrence frequency exist. Here we survey 7 years of in situ data from the NASA THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macro scale Interactions during Substorms) mission and find that KHWs occur at the magnetopause ∼19% of the time. The rate increases with solar wind speed, Alfven Mach number and number density, but is mostly independent of IMF magnitude. KHWs may thus be more important for plasma transport across the magnetopause than previously thought, and frequently drive magnetospheric ULF waves.

Concepts: Magnetohydrodynamics, Earth, Sun, Jupiter, Solar wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, Magnetic reconnection


Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental physical process in plasmas whereby stored magnetic energy is converted into heat and kinetic energy of charged particles. Reconnection occurs in many astrophysical plasma environments and in laboratory plasmas. Using very high time resolution measurements, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) has found direct evidence for electron demagnetization and acceleration at sites along the sunward boundary of Earth’s magnetosphere where the interplanetary magnetic field reconnects with the terrestrial magnetic field. We have (i) observed the conversion of magnetic energy to particle energy, (ii) measured the electric field and current, which together cause the dissipation of magnetic energy, and (iii) identified the electron population that carries the current as a result of demagnetization and acceleration within the reconnection diffusion/dissipation region.

Concepts: Electron, Electromagnetism, Electric charge, Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Earth, Sun, Magnetosphere


Early observations indicated that the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts could be separated into an inner zone dominated by high-energy protons and an outer zone dominated by high-energy electrons. Subsequent studies showed that electrons of moderate energy (less than about one megaelectronvolt) often populate both zones, with a deep ‘slot’ region largely devoid of particles between them. There is a region of dense cold plasma around the Earth known as the plasmasphere, the outer boundary of which is called the plasmapause. The two-belt radiation structure was explained as arising from strong electron interactions with plasmaspheric hiss just inside the plasmapause boundary, with the inner edge of the outer radiation zone corresponding to the minimum plasmapause location. Recent observations have revealed unexpected radiation belt morphology, especially at ultrarelativistic kinetic energies (more than five megaelectronvolts). Here we analyse an extended data set that reveals an exceedingly sharp inner boundary for the ultrarelativistic electrons. Additional, concurrently measured data reveal that this barrier to inward electron radial transport does not arise because of a physical boundary within the Earth’s intrinsic magnetic field, and that inward radial diffusion is unlikely to be inhibited by scattering by electromagnetic transmitter wave fields. Rather, we suggest that exceptionally slow natural inward radial diffusion combined with weak, but persistent, wave-particle pitch angle scattering deep inside the Earth’s plasmasphere can combine to create an almost impenetrable barrier through which the most energetic Van Allen belt electrons cannot migrate.

Concepts: Electron, Earth, Plasma, Solar wind, Magnetosphere, Van Allen radiation belt, James Van Allen, Magnetic mirror


Since their discovery over 50 years ago, the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts have been considered to consist of two distinct zones of trapped, highly energetic charged particles. The outer zone is comprised predominantly of mega-electron volt (MeV) electrons that wax and wane in intensity on time scales ranging from hours to days depending primarily on external forcing by the solar wind. The spatially separated inner zone is comprised of commingled high-energy electrons and very energetic positive ions (mostly protons), the latter being stable in intensity levels over years to decades. In situ energy-specific and temporally resolved spacecraft observations reveal an isolated third ring, or torus, of high-energy (E > 2 MeV) electrons that formed on 2 September 2012 and persisted largely unchanged in the geocentric radial range of 3.0 to ~3.5 Earth radii for over four weeks before being disrupted (and virtually annihilated) by a powerful interplanetary shock wave passage.

Concepts: Electron, Electric charge, Earth, Sun, Solar wind, Magnetosphere, Van Allen radiation belt, Magnetopause


Many internal and environmental triggers of primary headaches have been proposed, but establishing firm evidence for any of them has proved elusive. Geomagnetic storms, the disturbances of Earth’s magnetic field following Solar eruptions, have been proposed as one such trigger. In this study, we utilized a vast amount of self-reported symptoms from the online social networking service Twitter in order to investigate a purported link between the level of geomagnetic activity and the onset of primary headaches and migraines. We analyzed 63 million keyword-bearing messages posted over the three years covering the maximum of Solar Cycle 24. No correlation has been found despite the large sample size. The simulation reveals that the significant correlation would have emerged even if only 1% of headache (2% of migraine) instances were caused by geomagnetic disturbances, thus placing very low upper limits on the prevalence of this trigger among Twitter users.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Social network service, Solar wind, Geomagnetic storm, Twitter, Magnetosphere


The structure of Earth’s magnetosphere is poorly understood when the interplanetary magnetic field is northward. Under this condition, uncharacteristically energetic plasma is observed in the magnetotail lobes, which is not expected in the textbook model of the magnetosphere. Using satellite observations, we show that these lobe plasma signatures occur on high-latitude magnetic field lines that have been closed by the fundamental plasma process of magnetic reconnection. Previously, it has been suggested that closed flux can become trapped in the lobe and that this plasma-trapping process could explain another poorly understood phenomenon: the presence of auroras at extremely high latitudes, called transpolar arcs. Observations of the aurora at the same time as the lobe plasma signatures reveal the presence of a transpolar arc. The excellent correspondence between the transpolar arc and the trapped closed flux at high altitudes provides very strong evidence of the trapping mechanism as the cause of transpolar arcs.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth, Sun, Observation, Solar wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, Magnetic reconnection


The Van Allen Radiation Belts contain ultra-relativistic electrons trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field. Since their discovery in 1958, a fundamental unanswered question has been how electrons can be accelerated to such high energies. Two classes of processes have been proposed: (i) transport and acceleration of electrons from a source population located outside the radiation belts (radial acceleration); or (ii) acceleration of lower-energy electrons to relativistic energies in situ, in the heart of the radiation belts (local acceleration). We report measurements from NASA’s Van Allen Radiation Belt Storm Probes that clearly distinguish between the two types of acceleration. The observed radial profiles of phase space density are characteristic of local acceleration in the heart of the radiation belts and are inconsistent with a predominantly radial acceleration process.

Concepts: Electron, Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Earth, Solar wind, Magnetosphere, Van Allen radiation belt, James Van Allen


Violent releases of space plasma energy from the Earth’s magnetotail during substorms produce strong electric currents and bright aurora. But what modulates these currents and aurora and controls dissipation of the energy released in the ionosphere? Using data from the THEMIS fleet of satellites and ground-based imagers and magnetometers, we show that plasma energy dissipation is controlled by field-aligned currents (FACs) produced and modulated during magnetotail topology change and oscillatory braking of fast plasma jets at 10-14 Earth radii in the nightside magnetosphere. FACs appear in regions where plasma sheet pressure and flux tube volume gradients are non-collinear. Faster tailward expansion of magnetotail dipolarization and subsequent slower inner plasma sheet restretching during substorm expansion and recovery phases cause faster poleward then slower equatorward movement of the substorm aurora. Anharmonic radial plasma oscillations build up displaced current filaments and are responsible for discrete longitudinal auroral arcs that move equatorward at a velocity of about 1km/s. This observed auroral activity appears sufficient to dissipate the released energy.

Concepts: Earth, Thermodynamics, Plasma, Solar wind, Magnetosphere, Aurora, Space plasmas, Birkeland current


Although the research linking cardiovascular disorders to geomagnetic activity is accumulating, robust evidence for the impact of geomagnetic activity on stroke occurrence is limited and controversial.

Concepts: Earth's magnetic field, Cardiovascular disease, Geomagnetic storm, Magnetosphere