Friday, November 18, 2016

NASA Finds Unusual Origins of High-Energy Electrons - PHYSICS

High above the surface, Earth’s magnetic field constantly deflects incoming supersonic particles from the sun. These particles are disturbed in regions just outside of Earth’s magnetic field – and some are reflected into a turbulent region called the foreshock. New observations from NASA’s THEMIS – short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms – mission show that this turbulent region can accelerate electrons up to speeds approaching the speed of light.

Such extremely fast particles have been observed in near-Earth space and many other places in the universe, but the mechanisms that accelerate them have not yet been concretely understood.

The new results provide the first steps towards an answer, while opening up more questions. The research finds electrons can be accelerated to extremely high speeds in a near-Earth region farther from Earth than previously thought possible – leading to new inquiries about what causes the acceleration.

These findings may change the accepted theories on how electrons can be accelerated not only in shocks near Earth, but also throughout the universe. Having a better understanding of how particles are energized will help scientists and engineers better equip spacecraft and astronauts to deal with these particles, which can cause equipment to malfunction and affect space travelers.

Source & further reading:

This visualization represents one of the traditional proposed mechanisms for accelerating particles across a shock, called a shock drift acceleration. The electrons (yellow) and protons (blue) can be seen moving in the collision area where two hot plasma bubbles collide (red vertical line). The cyan arrows represent the magnetic field and the light green arrows, the electric field.

Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, data visualizer

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