NASA: Portals Exist, Hidden in Earth's Magnetic Field
A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal" -- an extraordinary opening in space o...
"We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa.
"They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."
of a portal in space
They're typically located a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind.
Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras. NASA is planning a mission called "MMS," short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, due to launch in 2014, to study the phenomenon.
Bristling with energetic particle detectors and magnetic sensors, the four spacecraft of MMS will spread out in Earth's magnetosphere and surround the portals to observe how they work.
Just one problem: Finding them. Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable, and elusive. They open and close without warning "and there are no signposts to guide us in," notes Scudder.
Actually, there are signposts, and Scudder has found them.
Portals form via the process of magnetic reconnection. Mingling lines of magnetic force from the sun and Earth criss-cross and join to create the openings. "X-points" are where the criss-cross takes place. The sudden joining of magnetic fields can propel jets of charged particles from the X-point, creating an "electron diffusion region."
To learn how to pinpoint these events, Scudder looked at data from a space probe that orbited Earth more than 10 years ago.
"In the late 1990s, NASA's Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth's magnetosphere," explains Scudder, "and it encountered many X-points during its mission."
|Data from Polar spacecraft,|
circa 1998, provided crucial clues
to finding magnetic xpoints
This means that single member of the MMS constellation using the diagnostics can find a portal and alert other members of the constellation. Mission planners long thought that MMS might have to spend a year or so learning to find portals before it could study them. Scudder's work short cuts the process, allowing MMS to get to work without delay.
It's a shortcut worthy of the best portals of fiction, only this time the portals are real. And with the new "signposts" we know how to find them.
So, according to NASA, the Sun plays a crucial role in creating these portals. Here is something challenging to think about: could stars be used as portals? Remember the videos from SOHO with UFOs interacting and even flying in and out of the Sun (YouTube)? Just think about it...