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Plasma Tubes In Earth’s Magnetosphere Captured in Images

Plasma structures in the layers of the Earth’s magnetosphere do not constitute a myth anymore. Astronomers have finally captured images of the tubular structures, thereby proving the beliefs of scientists. The findings have been published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.


The existence of plasma structures around the Earth was suspected by scientists. However, images of the plasma tubes were never captured before. The new study has now brought forth evidence of the occurrence of the plasma structures.

“For over 60 years, scientists believed these structures existed but by imaging them for the first time, we’ve provided visual evidence that they are really there,” said Cleo Loi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) and the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, the lead author of the study.

The magnetosphere is the space surrounding a heavenly body occupied by its magnetic field. The plasma in that of the Earth is said to be the product of the ionisation of the atmosphere by sunlight. The magnetosphere’s innermost layer, known as the ionosphere, and its upper layer the plasmasphere, have the plasma tubes extended across them. The plasma structures found there also exist in other shapes.

The position of the plasma structures have been defined by the lead author as follows:

“We measured their position to be about 600 km above the ground, in the upper ionosphere, and they appear to be continuing upwards into the plasmasphere. This is around where the neutral atmosphere ends, and we are transitioning to the plasma of outer space,” Loi said.

Loi made the discovery by making use of a radio telescope, the Murchison Widefield Array. She was able to map wide areas of the sky with the device. The telescope allowed her to take rapid snapshots to create a movie: movements of the plasma were thus recorded.

She has also explained the pertinence of the importance of her discovery relating to our satellite systems:-

“The discovery of the structures is important because they cause unwanted signal distortions that could, as one example, affect our civilian and military satellite-based navigation systems. So we need to understand them,” she said.

Her work has earned her the 2015 Bok Prize of the Astronomical Society of Australia.


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