Watch These Trippy NASA Visualizations of Space Magnetism
Earth is a giant magnet, and the field that surrounds it, called the magnetosphere, is one of the major reasons life on our planet has been able to flourish. But despite its crucial role in warding off cosmic radiation and atmospheric loss, there’s a lot we don’t know about the magnetosphere. That’s why in March 2015, NASA launched the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), a fleet of four spacecraft, to study its secrets.
The quartet is living up to that mandate, because it has now witnessed a never-before-seen event—magnetic reconnection, which is the energetic “snap” of crossed magnetic field lines, in the magnetosheath, a turbulent environment located tens of thousands of miles from Earth. Described in a paper published on Wednesday in Nature, the discovery may not sound esoteric, but it is an instrumental step to untangling the mysteries of magnetism on our home world.