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Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!Our online store includes fun classroom activities for you and your students. On March 3, 2014 the The Ground-to-Rocket Electrodynamics – Electron Correlative Experiment (GREECE) sounding rocket launched straight into an aurora from the Poker Flat Research Range in Poker Flat, Alaska. Robert Michell, who built some of the instruments on the sounding rocket, and Marilia Samara, the principal investigator for the GREECE project. Earth has a magnetic field much like an ordinary refrigerator magnet but shaped by charged particles flowing from the sun called the solar wind. And those picket-fence, parallel rays that can suddenly spring from a quiet arc are created by billions of electrons spiraling down individual magnetic field lines, crashing into atoms and molecules as they go.
Scientists suspect the swirls may take shape as a result of Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities or Alfven waves.
Alfven waves are created when flows of electrified particles from the sun (plasma) interact with Earth’s magnetic field. Still and video cameras on the ground simultaneously image the aurora as the instrument-laded rocket flies into the aurora to gather data.
Time exposure showing the trail of the rocket after it was launched into the aurora over Poker Flat early Monday morning March 3, 2014. The rocket soared to an altitude of 220 miles (354 km) and recorded data as the video and still cameras whirred on the ground during the 10 minute 15 second long flight. While the cause of auroras is understood, what causes the swirl shapes is an open question.
I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). Imagining lines along the direction of the field is kind of a useful analogy, but to me it’s going to far to say there are individual lines !
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Earth's magnetic field, also known as the geomagnetic field, is the magnetic field that extends from the Earth's interior to where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun. The North and South magnetic poles wander widely, but sufficiently slowly for ordinary compasses to remain useful for navigation. The magnetosphere is the region above the ionosphere and extends several tens of thousands of kilometers into space, protecting the Earth from the charged particles of the solar wind and cosmic rays that would otherwise strip away the upper atmosphere, including the ozone layer that protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) reach Earth affecting planetary magnetics, sparking geomagnetic storms, shifting ocean and jet stream currents in the Pacific Ring of Fire, creating unusual and extreme global weather patterns, creating unstoppable Earth changes, and affecting the behavior patterns of all sentient life forms. Earth's last magnetic reversal took place 786,000 years ago and happened very quickly, in less than 100 years -- roughly a human lifetime.
Earth's magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called Swarm. The solution to a long-standing puzzle, why magnetic north sits off the coast of Canada, rather than at the North Pole, may have been found in the strange, lopsided nature of Earth's inner core. For migratory birds and sea turtles, the ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field is crucial to navigating the long-distance voyages these animals undertake during migration. Humans may have a sixth sense after all, suggests a new study finding that a protein in the human retina, when placed into fruit flies, has the ability to detect magnetic fields.
A light-sensitive protein in the human eye has been shown to act as a "compass" in a magnetic field, when it is present in flies' eyes. In order to date environmental events from Earth's history such as meteorite impacts or climate change - geologists have long studied variations in slow-growing seafloor sedimentary rocks called ferromanganese crusts that build up in layers over the eons. Scientists have managed to push back the date for the earliest known presence of a magnetic field on Earth by about 250 million years.
Building on prior investigation into the biological mechanisms through which monarch butterflies are able to migrate up to 2,000 miles from eastern North America to a particular forest in Mexico each year, neurobiologists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) have linked two related photoreceptor proteins found in butterflies to animal navigation using the Earth's magnetic field. The magnetic equivalent of electricity in a 'spin ice' material: atom sized north and south poles in spin ice drift in opposite directions when a magnetic field is applied.
Princeton University scientists have shown that, in ancient times, the Earth's magnetic field was structured like the two-pole model of today, suggesting that the methods geoscientists use to reconstruct the geography of early land masses on the globe are accurate. The flow of seawater across Earth's surface could be responsible for small fluctuations in the planet's magnetic field, a controversial new study says. NASA's Swift satellite reported multiple blasts of radiation from a rare object known as a soft gamma repeater, or SGR. An enormous eruption has found its way to Earth after traveling for many thousands of years across space. Based on studies of old volcanic basalt, scientists know that the EarthOs magnetic field reverses at irregular intervals, ranging from tens of thousands to millions of years. An unexpected, thick layer of solar particles inside Earth's magnetic field suggests there are huge breaches in our planet's solar defenses. Scientists have found two large leaks in Earth's magnetosphere, the region around our planet that shields us from severe solar storms. NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Ancient lava flows are guiding a better understanding of what generates and controls the Earth's magnetic field - and what may drive it to occasionally reverse direction.
Rapid changes in the churning movement of Earth's liquid outer core are weakening the magnetic field in some regions of the planet's surface, a new study says.
Earth's magnetic field is weakening in staggered steps, a new analysis of centuries-old ships logs suggests.The finding could help scientists better understand the way Earth's magnetic poles reverse. One of the most fascinating natural phenomena on Earth is the flipping of its magnetic field, which has occurred hundreds of times in the last 160 million years.

After some 400 years of relative stability, Earth's North Magnetic Pole has moved nearly 1,100 kilometers out into the Arctic Ocean during the last century and at its present rate could move from northern Canada to Siberia within the next half-century. A long look at a young pulsar with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed unexpectedly rapid cooling, which suggests that it contains much denser matter than previously expected.
Earth's magnetic field has flipped many times over the last billion years, according to the geologic record. Today it is about 10 percent weaker than it was when German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss started keeping tabs on it in 1845, scientists say. March 31, 2010 By Janice VanCleave Question: What and where is Earth’s Magnetosphere? The Earth has a magnetic field surrounding it with properties much like those of the area surrounding a bar magnet. The photo below shows iron filings tracing out the bar magnet’s lines of the magnetic force. Because of the charged particles in solar winds, the outer area of Earth’s magnetic field is bullet shaped, with area facing the Sun rounded and pushed close to Earth.
ABOUT ME: Hi, I am Janice VanCleave, author of 50 best-selling science experiment books for children ages 4 through high school. If you want to know why mood rings change color; why some toys change color when heated then Click Janice's Free Lesson Plans on the Nav. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science! The Website was developed in part with the support of UCAR and NCAR, where it resided from 2000 - 2010.
Electrons and protons from the sun come charging into Earth’s magnetic domain called the magnetosphere and strike and energize molecules of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere between 60 and 200 miles overhead. When those particles travel down the planet’s magnetic field lines and excite atmospheric gases, they create the familiar parallel rays seen in auroras. Because the lines of magnetic force are closely bunched, as shown in the illustration above, we see side-by-side, tightly spaced rays. The first occurs when two fluids or gases moving at different rates of speed flow by one another. To study the structures, sounding or research rockets are launched directly into an active display of northern lights to gather electrical and magnetic measurements. Conditions looked good from Poker Flat the previous evening with a flurry of red and green arcs after sunset. They have their work cut out for them; those few minutes of data collecting will mean years of work to track down the cause of the beautiful curlicues that make our hearts leap at the sight. Most of the research there involves the aurora with sounding rocket launches done about once a year.
However, at irregular intervals averaging several hundred thousand years, the Earth's field reverses and the North and South Magnetic Poles relatively abruptly switch places. The rapid flip, much faster than the thousands of years most geologists thought, comes as new measurements show the planet's magnetic field is weakening 10 times faster than normal and could drop to zero in a few thousand years. The layers can be dated by various means, such as by analyzing radioactive isotopes, but those methods don't provide accurate dating on small scales: a millimeter of rock, for example, can include information that spans as much as hundreds of thousands of years. The shift widens the distance between true north and magnetic north, which is the direction a compass needle points.
Experts know birds possess an internal magnetic compass, but there is disagreement about what form it takes. The findings may lead to a better understanding of historical continental movement, which relates to changes in climate.
If so, the research would challenge the widely accepted theory that Earth's magnetic field is generated by a churning molten core, or dynamo, in the planet's interior.
Now, astronomers report an in-depth study of these eruptions using the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton and International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) satellites. Volcanic basalt rock contains magnetite, and when the rock cools, its magnetic properties are frozen, recording the Earth's magnetic field of the time. These breaches indicate that during the next period of high solar activity, due to start in 2012, Earth will experience some of the worst solar storms seen in decades.
The leaks are defying many of scientists' previous ideas on how the interaction between Earth's magnetosphere and solar wind occurs: The leaks are in an unexpected location, let in solar particles in faster than expected and the whole interaction works in a manner that is completely the opposite of what scientists had thought. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to "load up" the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. The main magnetic field, generated by turbulent currents within the deep mass of molten iron of the Earth's outer core, periodically flips its direction, such that a compass needle would point south rather than north. The planet's magnetic field flips - north becomes south and vice versa - on average every 300,000 years. If that happens, Alaska may be in danger of losing one of its most stunning natural phenomena ? the Northern Lights. The pulsar's cool temperature and the vast magnetic web of high-energy particles that surrounds it have implications for the theory of nuclear matter and the origin of magnetic fields in cosmic objects.
But only in the past decade have scientists developed and evolved a computer model to demonstrate how these reversals occur. Like a Kryptonite-challenged Superman, its strength has steadily and mysteriously waned, leaving parts of the planet vulnerable to increased radiation from space. James Ross located the pole for the first time in 1831 after an exhausting arctic journey during which his ship got stuck in the ice for four years In 1904, Roald Amundsen found the pole again and discovered that it had moved at least 50 km since the days of Ross.
The outer part of this magnetic field facing the Sun is bombarded by charged particles in the solar winds. Oh the opposite side of Earth this magnetic field is repelled by the charged solar particles and extends hundreds of thousands of kilometers into space.

The molecules release that extra energy as the greens, reds and purples of the northern lights. In a familiar example, wind blowing over water creates ripples that are amplified into curling, white-topped waves.
While waiting for the right moment to launch, members of the team exercise their poetic side by writing and sharing haikus about their beloved aurora.
Roughly speaking it is the field of a magnetic dipole currently tilted at an angle of about 10 degrees with respect to Earth's rotational axis, as if there were a bar magnet placed at that angle at the center of the Earth. These reversals of the geomagnetic poles leave a record in rocks that are of value to paleomagnetists in calculating geomagnetic fields in the past. It is surrounded by a liquid outer core (mostly iron and nickel), a rocky, viscous mantle layer and a thin, solid crust. One idea is that tiny magnets in the beak wired to the nervous system detect lines of magnetic force. By taking a closer look at the 1.1 billion-year-old volcanic rocks on the north shore of Lake Superior, the researchers have found that Earth's ancient magnetic field was a geocentric axial dipole -- essentially a large bar magnet centered in the core and aligned with the Earth's spin axis. With this data, scientists estimate that the last magnetic field reversal occurred about 780,000 years ago. Such polarity reversals have occurred hundreds of times at irregular intervals throughout the planet's history - most recently about 780,000 years ago - but scientists are still trying to understand how and why. Scientists already suspected birds' eyes contain molecules that are thought to sense Earth's magnetic field. The last time this happened was some 780,000 years ago, so we could be heading for another reversal soon. The pole kept going during the 20th century, north at an average speed of 10 km per year, lately accelerating to 40 km per year. No, Earth doesn’t really have a giant bar magnet inside, but the core of the Earth has magnetic properties that result in a magnetic field as if a bar magnet was present. Check out my forthcoming book "Night Sky with the Naked Eye", a guide to the wonders of the night using only your eyes. Unlike a bar magnet, however, Earth's magnetic field changes over time because it is generated by a geodynamo (in Earth's case, the motion of molten iron alloys in its outer core). Such information in turn is helpful in studying the motions of continents and ocean floors in the process of plate tectonics. New findings show that a missing piece of the traditional theory explaining why metals become less conductive when they are heated was needed to complete the puzzle of this field-generating process. As the inner core cools, crystallizing iron releases impurities, sending lighter molten material into the liquid outer core. The planet's magnetic field is on the move, a normal enough phenomenon, but one that has some rather bizarre implications, such as the need to renumber airport runways.
Another is that magnetic fields are ''seen'' via the eyes using a light-sensitive mechanism.
Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.
In a new study, German researchers found that these molecules are linked to an area of the brain known to process visual information. There, the heat of the Earth's solid inner core churns a liquid outer core composed of iron and nickel.
What is uncertain is whether the weakened field is on the way to a complete collapse and a reversal that would flip the North and South Poles. This upwelling, combined with the Earth's rotation, drives convection, forcing the molten metal into whirling vortices. Tampa International Airport on Florida's west coast just finished renaming its three runways, a laborious project that interrupted airport traffic for a month while runways were shut down for repainting. The new research suggests that, for robins at least, the second theory is probably correct.
In that sense, "birds may see the magnetic field," said study lead author Dominik Heyers, a biologist at the University of Oldenburg. Since 1840, when accurate measures of the intensity were first made, the field strength has declined by about 5 percent per century. The churning acts like convection, which generates electric currents and, as a result, a magnetic field. German scientists studied 36 European robins and found birds with damage to ''cluster N'' were unable to orientate themselves using the Earth's magnetic field. Human-made compasses work by using Earth as an enormous magnet and orienting a tiny magnet attached to a needle to the planet's north and south poles.
If this decline is continuous, the magnetic field could drop to zero and reverse sometime within the next 2,000 years. Currently, the center of the field, called an axis, emerges in the Arctic Ocean west of Ellesmere Island, about 300 miles (500 kilometers) from the geographic North Pole. But the field might not always be in steady decline, according to a new study appearing in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science. If you imagine a gigantic bar magnet inside of Earth, you'll have a pretty good idea what Earth's magnetic field is shaped like. The rotational effect helps scientists understand what's happening inside the Earth's core.

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