UCLA scientists have discovered a new source of super-fast electrons raining down on Earth, which can affect the color aurora borealis but also affect satellites, planes and astronauts.
The researchers detected an unexpected “lightning strike” from the lower Earth using the ELFIN mission, two small satellites built and operated on the UCLA campus by undergraduate and graduate students. graduate students led by a small team of staff counselors.
By combining ELFIN data with remote sensing from NASA THEMIS spacecraft, scientists have determined that sudden rain is the cause of whistler waves, a type of electromagnetic wave that flows through plasma that the atmosphere and connect the electrons to the earth’s magnetosphere, causing them to “flow” into the atmosphere.
Their findings were published on March 25 in the journal Nature Communicationsto show the responsibility of whistler waves for electron precipitation is much larger than current ideas and atmospheric models.
“ELFIN is the first satellite to measure these super-fast electrons,” said Xiaojia Zhang, lead author and researcher in UCLA’s office of Earth, Earth and Space Science. “The missionary provides new insights because of his or her independence in the chain of events that make them.”
The center of that chain of events is the Earth’s orbit around the Earth, which is filled with fixed particles that orbit large rings around the earth, called the Van Allen radiation belt. . The electrons in these belts travel in Slinky -like motions that literally fly between the North and South poles of the Earth. Under certain conditions, whistler waves are created in the radiation belts, which intensify and accelerate the electrons. This positively influences the travel path of the electrons as they fall out of the belts and fall into the air, creating electron precipitation.
One can think of Van Allen’s belts as a huge pool of water filled with water – or, in this case, electrons, says Vassilis Angelopolous, a UCLA professor of space physics and space. principal researcher of ELFIN. When the reservoir is full, the water is melted into a resting stream to keep the cup flowing. But when big waves come out of the reservoir, the soft water flows at the edge, much faster and more abundant than the resting water. ELFIN, which is the bottom of the two streams, can accurately measure the lessons from each.
The low -frequency electron measurements by ELFIN, combined with THEMIS observations of whistler waves in the air and complex computer simulations, allow the team to accurately understand the process by which electric currents are melted. in the air.
The data are very important because current trends and weather patterns, while counting the other sources of electrons entering the atmosphere, do not predict this new whistler wave – incorporated into the electron flow, can disrupt the Earth’s atmospheric chemistry, disrupt the plane and cause low damage. .
Researchers have also shown that this type of radiation-belt electron loss in the atmosphere can be significantly increased during geomagnetic storms, disturbances caused by increased solar activity. disturbing the atmosphere near the Earth and the magnetic earth.
“While the general idea is that the sky is separated from our upper sky, the two are intertwined,” Angelopoulos said. “Understanding how to connect with them can benefit satellites and astronauts traveling around the country, which is crucial for commerce, telecommunications and aerospace.”
Since its inception in 2013, more than 300 UCLA students have worked on ELFIN (Electron Losses and Fields investigation), supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation. The two microsatellites, about the size of a loaf of bread and weighing about 8 pounds, were released into orbit in 2018, and have since been monitoring the activity of strong electrons. and help scientists better understand the effect of magnetic currents in the immediate area. -Earth air. Satellites are used from the UCLA Mission Operations Center on campus.
“It’s great to increase our knowledge of aerospace science using data from technology we’ve built ourselves,” said Colin Wilkins, lead author of the study. he was then a leader at ELFIN and a medical student in the industry. Earth, earth and aerospace science.
ELFIN to learn how to lose electrons
Xiao-Jia Zhang et al, The largest precipitation of strong electrons in the Earth’s radiation belts, Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-022-29291-8
Presented by the University of California, Los Angeles
Directions: Researchers find out the cause of super-fast electron rain (2022, March 30) Retrieved March 30, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-03-source-super-fast -electron.html
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