NASA’s latest mission was to launch four (identical) spacecraft in order to study Earth’s magnetic field in collision with the sun.
The mission, which is worth billions of dollars, started at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
According to the scientists, all four spacecrafts, which bear no name, will spend at least two years in space trying to construct a 3D view of the magnetosphere.
This particular mission was designed to provide important information on the basic features of our planet’s magnetic impact on the solar system. The weather in space is very much dependent on these magnetic fields.
NASA’s latest mission is called MMS, which stands for Magnetospheric Multiscale, and it is meant to study up-close the Earth’s magnetosphere, which is a shield made of charged particles. These special particles are being controlled by our planet’s magnetic field.
The four spacecrafts NASA will send into space today, will be in charge of studying the interaction between Earth’s magnetosphere and the charged particles coming from the sun.
The astronomers are mostly interested in a phenomenon known as “magnetic reconnection”, which is the process of realigning of the charged particles. The scientists say that this phenomenon is rather violent and the magnetic explosions occur on a regular basis on the sun’s surface.
These explosions are responsible for fueling the solar flares and other phenomena such as “coronal mass ejections”.
But these magnetic explosions don’t happen only on the surface of the sun. They occasionally occur in the vicinity of our planet, more exactly in Earth’s magnetosphere.
Scientists explain that usually, when the sun launches is solar energy in the Earth’s direction, the streams of electromagnetic particles crash into our planet’s magnetic fields. This collision usually happens when the sun’s particles are aligned with the Earth’s in the same direction. Also, when this happens it causes a gentle collision, according to the astronomers.
But on a previous mission, which happened in 2012, the magnetic fields coming from the sun a few days prior crashed into Earth’s magnetosphere, which cause them to align in opposite directions. This led to an explosive reconnection, the astronomers recount.
NASA officials explained the role of the latest mission saying that while the repeated magnetic reconnection is happening, the sun send its solar material into the magnetosphere, getting very close to Earth’s space.
The NASA scientists added that these particular events that take place in space weather can affect the magnetosphere’s front side, compressing it. This leaves the satellites exposed to the rough radiation that comes from outside the magnetosphere.
These variations of magnetic fields can affect the Earth’s power grids, which leads to a power cut.
NASA’s four spacecrafts will be orbiting our planet and will spend almost a year studying the front of the magnetosphere. Then the spacecraft will switch to study the magnetotail.
The spacecraft’s main mission is to observe the Earth’s magnetic fields in both regions and to collect data that will help scientists construct a 3D model of the process of magnetic reconnection.
NASA’s four spacecrafts will be launched at the same time on Friday night using an Atlas V rocket.
The launching was scheduled to take place on March 12 at 10:44 p.m. EDT. NASA Edge broadcasted the entire takeoff live which started at 9:15 p.m.
Craig Tooley, project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said that his team is very thrilled to announce that all four spacecraft have taken off and everything is going according to plans.
Over the next couple of weeks, NASA scientists will set up all the necessary booms and antennas on the satellites and will be in charge of testing all the instruments and make sure everything is functioning.
The NASA team of scientists will then place the observatories in a pyramid formation because this is the optimal position for scientific observations.
According to the researchers, the first observations are scheduled to begin at the beginning of September.
Jim Burch, one of the main investigators at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said that the team planned this mission for more than 10 years and is now ready to start working on the new mission.
Burch added that this is the first time they had the opportunity of studying this important process so close.
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