Hidden portals in Earth's magnetic field

Jul 02, 2012 By Dr. Tony Phillips
Hidden portals in Earth's magnetic field
Data from NASA's Polar spacecraft, circa 1998, provided crucial clues to finding magnetic X-points.

A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal" -- an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms.  A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed...

It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them.

"We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa.  "They're places where the 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."

Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day.  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."

Because Polar carried sensors similar to those of MMS, Scudder decided to see how an X-point looked to Polar. "Using Polar data, we have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and energetic particle measurements that tell us when we've come across an X-point or an electron diffusion region. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements."

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 are real. And with the new "signposts" we know how to find them. 

The work of Scudder and colleagues is described in complete detail in the June 1 issue of the Physical Review Letters.

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MrGrynch
1.6 / 5 (14) Jul 02, 2012
Since magnetic fields CANNOT exist without the movement of electric charges there must also be an organized moving current to create these fields, aka Birkeland Currents, which is a prime tenet of Plasma Cosmology and the Electric Universe paradigm. its funny how these magnetic fields are discussed as if they can exist independently of electric charge. This was a false belief in the early days of magneto hydrodynamics, which was quickly dispelled. yet we continue to use this false description with space plasmas.
HannesAlfven
2 / 5 (12) Jul 02, 2012
Critics of the Electric Universe will surely glance over this press release without realizing that THEMIS is about to put into space a probe which might possibly vindicate the EU's claims on magnetic reconnection. Don Scott has been adamant in his claim that magnetic reconnection is really the misidentification of Birkeland Currents. If the MMS has been properly equipped, we could be on the verge of a resolution on this debate.

Whether you call them "magnetic portals" or "elephant trunks", interplanetary, interstellar and intergalactic space are each permeated by unbelievably long filaments. The widespread assumption that these are the result of nova shockwaves or some other non-electrical phenomena, in defiance of the electrical nature of these filaments within the plasma laboratory, could come to represent one of the biggest oversights in the entire history of astrophysics.
Marko P
1 / 5 (6) Jul 02, 2012
Is there any valid proof in entire human history which will support claims stated in the article about so called "portal" properties?
With an except of Science Fiction and conspiracy theory projects like Philadelphia Experiment is there any valid proof that "portal" mentioned above is a time space portal, and that will give us 4 dimensional space plus time travel ability?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof!
Isn't it more likely to expect that high energy "portal" will just blow up equipment inside of it?
barakn
5 / 5 (7) Jul 02, 2012
Students of the solar system will quickly recognize the naivete evident in Mr. Grynch's post. Mainstream physics recognizes that magnetic fields result from electric currents (when not due to spins, which only superficially resemble currents). And when it comes to the solar surface, where the strongest magnetic fields can be found, mainstream physics recognizes that there are enormous electric currents flowing at or near the solar surface. As for the rest of the solar magnetosphere, the so-called Parker Spiral, the structure once again doesn't make sense unless there's a heliospheric current sheet of enormous proportions. So no, magnetic fields are not discussed as if they are independent of electric current (presumably MrGrynch meant current instead of charge). Not sure where these EU fanboys are getting their misinformation from.
TS1
not rated yet Jul 02, 2012
A propos:
Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras


A question, in case anyone knows:
Is there any sort of difference for a particle when it travels through the opening or just otherwise (outside the portal tunnels) from the sun? Or is it that they can only travel through the portal?

TIA
sstritt
3 / 5 (4) Jul 02, 2012
Is there any way to extract power from these things?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Jul 02, 2012
Is there any sort of difference for a particle when it travels through the opening or just otherwise (outside the portal tunnels) from the sun? Or is it that they can only travel through the portal?

Portal, in this case, simply means a place where the local magnetic field is zero (or close to it).
Neutral particles (or photons) aren't affected by a magnetic fields at all. Only charged particles (protons, naked helium nuclei, electrons, betas, ..) are affected by magnetic fields.

So anywhere the magnetic field is less they are deflected less. That doesn't mean that a magnetic field will block charged particles. The curve really depends on a number of things. The mass, the charge and the speed of the partickle (higher mass, lower charge and faster speed will mean less deflection)

antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Jul 02, 2012
Is there any way to extract power from these things?

Tricky question. These particles do carry a momentum, so you can use that momentum (solar sails can use this). To get energy off this you would have to have a stationary object (but that's a problem since in space stuff will just push you around. There's no real stationary poin. maybe on the moon, but solar cells will get energy more easily)
You could get a static charge from the solar wind (e.g. if you'd use a mgnetic field to deflect electrons and collect protons. Problem with this is that you then charge your collector with positive charges, which then repel followup protons (and attract electrons)...which will negate your collected charge in short order.

So short answer: Probably not.
HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 02, 2012
Re: "So no, magnetic fields are not discussed as if they are independent of electric current (presumably MrGrynch meant current instead of charge). Not sure where these EU fanboys are getting their misinformation from."

Great! So, can we finally ditch the concept of "fossil magnetic fields," and get on with the business of considering that the large-scale magnetic fields observed to be associated with galaxies and intergalactic space are the result of large-scale electric currents? It seems incredibly important that you've left that vital detail out ...

I think we are fortunate that the THEMIS group appears to be far more rigorous with investigating claims than @barakn. NASA is fortunately filled with a large number of independent thinkers.
HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 02, 2012
And to be clear, @MrGrynch is exactly right that astrophysicists regularly rely upon sweeping magnetohydrodynamics approximations when they model cosmic plasmas. It has been known for probably half a century by now that ideal MHD can only be legitimately argued to pertain to a very narrow set of cosmic plasmas. Alfven -- who received the Nobel for his invention of MHD -- was incredibly vocal on this point. He even went so far as to use his Nobel acceptance speech as an opportunity to repeat the lecture. And yet, show me a conventional astrophysics textbook where it is even mentioned today ...

There is something incredibly surreal about an entire discipline of astrophysicists choosing to ignore Alfven's warnings at the end of his career, after he had spent a lifetime working with plasmas, in favor of entirely focusing upon his very early, naive attempts at modeling plasmas. I think it shows a blatant disregard for laboratory observations amongst mainstream astrophysicists.
UberGoober
4.9 / 5 (7) Jul 02, 2012
Is there any valid proof in entire human history which will support claims stated in the article about so called "portal" properties?
With an except of Science Fiction and conspiracy theory projects like Philadelphia Experiment is there any valid proof that "portal" mentioned above is a time space portal, and that will give us 4 dimensional space plus time travel ability?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof!
Isn't it more likely to expect that high energy "portal" will just blow up equipment inside of it?

You are reading too much into the term "portal". The article does not claim any SciFi time/space wormhole type properties. The term portal here might better be described as a channel of reduced resistance to streams of charged particles caused by interaction of the magnetic fields.
Fionn_MacTool
2.2 / 5 (6) Jul 03, 2012
Now all they need to do is link these to areas on the surface of the earth where highly charged particles cause crops to collapse and we have a sound theory for crop circles.
Bog_Mire
1 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2012
Scudder & Mouldy......X-Files.

Do DO do DOO
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2012
Any protons that go through these regions unscathed can collide with ionised oxygen in the atmosphere, some will be blown out into space, some goes into orbit and the rest falls as water. ie. Increasing sea-levels are possibly partly due to proton/oxygen combustion...

Anyone care to work out the lower and upper estimates of how much resulting water might land on earth each year ?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2012
Anyone care to work out the lower and upper estimates of how much resulting water might land on earth each year ?

Given that some of the Earth's atmosphere gets blown off into space each year that's hard to estimate (you also have a negative factor in the equation).
It would also highly depend on how active the sun is (low speed protons would likely not reach the atmosphere much. After a CME and it's associated magnetic field strengths you'd probably get more penetration depth which would enable interaction with the atmosphere. )

Average mass loss of the sun due to solar wind is about 5 billion tonnes per hour. If I googled correctly (too lazy to do the math) Earth receives 0.000000045% of the solar energy output.
Given radial distribution for solar mass ejection (which isn't correct but should serve as a good first approximation) this means Earth gets 0.000000045% of the above mass per hour (about 2 tons worth). Most of which gets deflected.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2012
So my UPPER estimate (if everything reached Earth, everything were protons, and everything were converted into H2O) would be 18 tons of water per hour.

(2 protons at atomic weight 1 and one oxygen at atomic weight 16 make one molecule of H2O...so 2 tons of protons would grab 16 tons of oxygen to make 18 tons of water). Which comes out to 157000 tons per year (a cube 54 meters on a side).

But this is a way, way, WAY upper bound.

So I guess my definitive, scientific answer would be: Meh...not much.

HannesAlfven
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 03, 2012
Re: "You are reading too much into the term "portal". The article does not claim any SciFi time/space wormhole type properties. The term portal here might better be described as a channel of reduced resistance to streams of charged particles caused by interaction of the magnetic fields."

Astrophysicists appear to frequently invent terms when it comes to electricity in space. Elephant trunks is another example which will land you hits in the paper databases for similar structures, but for the interstellar scale.

The most important facts pertaining to this article are that (1) when plasmas conduct electricity within the laboratory, they form filaments. And (2) These plasma filaments tend to collimate, by virtue of their long-range attraction and short-range repulsion. It is common to see two filaments twisting around one another. (3) An electrical plasma physics explanation for the diagram attached to this article can be observed on page 122 of Don Scott's The Electric Sky.
Jitterbewegung
not rated yet Jul 03, 2012
How much does the upper atmosphere heat up by?
Urgelt
not rated yet Jul 03, 2012
Water goes the other way, too: water vapor is dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen by cosmic rays, hydrogen bounces around, some of it escapes into space.

In both directions, the gain/loss is trivial.

If Mike's aim is to suggest a reason for rising sea levels other than thermal expansion and melting glaciers, it's a fail.

Typical denialist wishful thinking to support a fact-free propagandist anti-science ideology.
scottmc
not rated yet Jul 04, 2012
"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.Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. "

Why is there only temporary connection?
Fionn_MacTool
1 / 5 (3) Jul 04, 2012
It has already been proven that many crop circles are the result of microwave energy heating the base of crops and causing them to collapse - http://phys.org/n...sts.html

Now, either you subscribe to the theory that people have started using magnetron's to create them, or you open your mind and start thinking of logical alternatives...I think that the possibility that there is some relationship with highly charged particles from the sun interacting with the earth's magnetic field to be plausible. It would be nice if people addressed the hypothesis on a rational basis rather than just falling back to your usual closed minded default. You know who you are.
Mike_Massen
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 04, 2012
Urgelt stupidly vented his spleen
In both directions, the gain/loss is trivial.
Guessing isnt your strong point, what are the facts ?
Urgelt obviously didnt read & or take note of my words 'possibly partly'
If Mike's aim is to suggest a reason for rising sea levels other than thermal expansion and melting glaciers, it's a fail.
Sorry English isnt your first language.
Urgelt went on to accuse ignorantly
Typical denialist wishful thinking to support a fact-free propagandist anti-science ideology.
There is clear substantive evidence sea level rise is related to anthropomorphic origin. The question is by how much & as true scientists details matter, what needs to be explored is how much comes from other sources so we have true understanding not puerile childish dogma !

To be dogmatic on either side of the fence is sheer stupidity Urgelt you dunderhead, I'm disappointed in you, try to be mature and wise not so ignorantly dogmatic ignoring contributory causes. (shakes head)
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
3 / 5 (2) Jul 05, 2012
Interesting science! So why is it so many science denialists that reject it over here instead of on crank blogs? Any which way, cranks are fun playtoys too. Or, you can be serious about the science but never about human stupidity.

@ scottmc:

"Why is there only temporary connection?"

Magnetic reconnections are places that relax two magnetic fields that are stiffened by permeating a plasma. (By the particle gyro effect "freezing" magnetic lines in.) Too much tangling, and the energy has to relax. This is by the way why they are so energetic, launching particles like a ray gun in their "scissor" action.

After they snap back, the fields are free to start winding up tangles again. It is like a boiling soup, you won't find many stationary bubbles on the surface as they pop all the time.

@ Mike Massen:

I think it's a fair (if untestable) idea by Urgelt, climate science already knows roughly how much of the current rise is contributed by anthropomorphic sources: all of it.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2012
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM got ambiguous as so many dogmatic automatons do...
..climate science already knows roughly how much of the current rise is contributed by anthropomorphic sources: all of it.
Pardon ???

First you say 'roughly' then you say 'all of it', how can both be true, you have two mouths or two mirrors with multiple egos ?

Please state unequivocally why 'all of it' is absolute accurate, have you looked at any other contributory sources even tangentially/casually and where is your data to PROVE your certainty - please ?

Also what is your definition of 'roughly' ?

katesisco
1 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2012
Those spirals above Norway and Australia? Are they magnetic portals? Birkeland currents? neutron beams?
Would be helpful if we could stop splitting hairs.

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