Friday, March 13, 2015

NASA launches 4 spacecraft to study Magnetic Fields

U.S. space agency NASA on Thursday launched four identical spacecraft to study how magnetic fields like those around Earth and Sun interact as part of efforts to understand space weather events that could disrupt power grids, communications and navigation systems.

Known as the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, these spacecraft, stacked one atop the other, blasted off at 10:44 p.m. EDT (0244GMT Friday), from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard an Atlas V rocket.

The 1.1-billion-U.S.-dollar project will study a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection, which occurs when magnetic fields connect and disconnect with an explosive release of energy that can accelerate particles up to nearly the speed of light.

"Magnetic reconnection is a major driver of solar activity and space weather events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections," NASA explained in its blog.

"These violent outbursts can be harmful to astronauts in orbit, and can affect our power grid and disrupt the satellites we use every day for communications, weather forecasting and navigation."

Unlike previous missions that have observed only evidence of magnetic reconnection events, MMS has sufficient resolution to observe and measure reconnection events as they occur, NASA said.

While MMS will fly through reconnection regions in less than a second, key sensors on each spacecraft are able to capture measurements 100 times faster than any previous mission, the space agency said.

The quartet will fly in a pyramid formation to provide the first three-dimensional view of magnetic reconnection. They will observe reconnection directly in Earth's protective magnetic space environment known as the magnetosphere.

Each of the four MMS spacecraft is octagonal in shape, about 11 feet (3 meters) across by four feet (1 meter) high. They have 100 instruments on board, 25 on each unit.

"By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, MMS helps us understand reconnection elsewhere, such as the atmosphere of the Sun, the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space," NASA said.

The spacecraft will begin science operations in September after a six-month "checkout" period. Their primary mission is expected to last two years.



1 comment:

  1. An unmanned Atlas rocket blasted off from Florida on Thursday with a quartet of NASA science satellites designed to map explosions triggered by criss-crossing magnetic fields around the Earth...

    The 20-story-tall rocket, built and launched by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:44 p.m. EDT (0244 GMT on Friday).

    Perched atop the rocket were four identical satellites designed to fly in a pyramid formation high around Earth.

    Each satellite is equipped with 25 sensors to record in split-second detail what happens when the planet's magnetic field lines break apart and reconnect. Data from the four probes will be combined to produce three-dimensional maps of the process.

    Magnetic reconnection, as the phenomenon is known, is commonplace throughout the universe, but poorly understood..................


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