Plasma Shield Protects the Earth from Solar Energy

Mar 07, 2014 11:49 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma

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Scientists have observed a process in the Earth's magnetic field that protects our planet from the full impact of solar energy.

Stretching from the center of the planet to space, the magnetosphere works as a shield for Earth, ensuring that life is protected from solar wind emitted by the Sun, according to .

"The Earth's magnetic field protects life on the surface from the full impact of these solar outbursts," said John Foster, associate director of MIT's Haystack Observatory.

"Reconnection strips away some of our magnetic shield and lets energy leak in, giving us large, violent storms. These plasmas get pulled into space and slow down the reconnection process, so the impact of the sun on the Earth is less violent." 

A team including Philip Erickson, principal research scientist at Haystack Observatory, as well as Brian Walsh and David Sibeck at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center observed the phenomenon and published their findings in this week's issue of Science.

The magnetic field touches solar wind from the Sun out in space, protecting us from the stream of charged particles emitted by the star, according to MIT News.

At the "merging point," cold, thick plasma in the Earth's magnetic field deflects some of the high-energy solar effects. The plasma shield happens when low-energy plasma particles cling to magnetic field lines.

When the magnetosphere collides with solar wind, the Earth's atmosphere can be affected by the Sun's magnetic field, allowing the star's electrical currents to invade our atmosphere. The resulting storms and space weather can affect high-altitude aircraft and the International Space Station.

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