Archive for the ‘Magnetic Fields’ Category

Magnetic Shielding Of Exomoons: To Be Or Not To Be

September 10, 2013 Leave a comment

A new study on magnetic fields around extrasolar giant planets sheds first light on the magnetic environment of extrasolar moons. The work, authored by René Heller of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University (Canada) and Jorge I. Zuluaga of the FACom group in the Institute of Physics of the University of Antioquia (Colombia) is the first to explore the complex magnetic environment of exomoons and its impact on the habitability of these peculiar bodies.

Regrettably the results are not completely encouraging. Even the most massive moons that can be expected from a formation point of view will be small compared to Earth. Thus, the only possibility these moons can be magnetically protected from the stellar and cosmic high-energy radiation is that they are encoated by their giant planet’s magnetosphere. Yet, in orbits close to the planet, these moons can be subject to enormous tidal heating, potentially making them uninhabitable. These results represent just the beginning of an interesting research branch, which introduces a new key factor for the habitability of those “Pandora”-like environments.

Probably the first image that comes to our minds when thinking of an inhabitated extrasolar moon shows the beautiful landscapes of Pandora, the hypothetical moon of James Cameron’s movie Avatar. But the environments of extrasolar moons seem to be less favored than the idealized version shown on the big screen. Even if located around planets in the stellar “Habitable Zone”, where the amount of incoming light allows for the existence liquid water and hence life, exomoons are subject to a number of other perturbing effects making things harsher for life than previously thought.

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NASA Voyager Statement About Competing Models To Explain Recent Spacecraft Data

August 16, 2013 Leave a comment

A newly published paper argues that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has already entered interstellar space. The model described in the paper is new and different from other models used so far to explain the data the spacecraft has been sending back from more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) away from our sun.

NASA’s Voyager project scientist, Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, explains:

“Details of a new model have just been published that lead the scientists who created the model to argue that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft data can be consistent with entering interstellar space in 2012. In describing on a fine scale how magnetic field lines from the sun and magnetic field lines from interstellar space can connect to each other, they conclude Voyager 1 has been detecting the interstellar magnetic field since July 27, 2012. Their model would mean that the interstellar magnetic field direction is the same as that which originates from our sun.

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Magnetic Star Reveals Its Hidden Power

August 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Artist's impression. Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab

Artist’s impression. Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab

A team of astronomers including two researchers from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory has made the first ever measurement of the magnetic field at a specific spot on the surface of a magnetar. Magnetars are a type of neutron star, the dense and compact core of a giant star which has blasted away its outer layers in a supernova explosion.

Magnetars have among the strongest magnetic fields in the Universe. Until now, only their large scale magnetic field had been measured. However, using a new technique and observations of a magnetar in X-rays, the astronomers have now revealed a strong, localised surface magnetic field on one.

Magnetars are very puzzling neutron stars. Astronomers discovered them through their unusual behaviour when observed in X-ray wavelengths, including sudden outbursts of radiation and occasional giant flares. These peculiar features of magnetars are caused by the evolution, dissipation and decay of their super-strong magnetic fields, which are hundreds or thousands of times more intense than those of the more common type of neutron stars, the radio pulsars.

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Newly Found Pulsar Helps Astronomers Explore Milky Way’s Mysterious Core

August 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Artist's conception. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Artist’s conception. Credit: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers have made an important measurement of the magnetic field emanating from a swirling disk of material surrounding the black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. The measurement, made by observing a recently-discovered pulsar, is providing them with a powerful new tool for studying the mysterious region at the core of our home galaxy.

The Milky Way’s central black hole is some four million times more massive than the Sun. Black holes, concentrations of mass so dense that not even light can escape them, can pull in material from their surroundings. That material usually forms a swirling disk around the black hole, with material falling from the outer portion of the disk inward until it is sucked into the black hole itself.

Such disks concentrate not only the matter pulled into them but also the magnetic fields associated with that matter, forming a giant, twisting magnetic field that is thought to propel some of the matter back outward along its poles in superfast “jets.”

The region near the black hole is obscured from visible-light observations by gas and dust, and is an exotic, extreme environment still little-understood by astronomers. The magnetic field in the central portion of the region is an important component that affects other phenomena.

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Researchers Reveal Model Of Sun’s Magnetic Field

Image credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

Image credit: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

Researchers at the Universities of Leeds and Chicago have uncovered an important mechanism behind the generation of astrophysical magnetic fields such as that of the Sun.

Scientists have known since the 18th Century that the Sun regularly oscillates between periods of high and low solar activity in an 11-year cycle, but have been unable to fully explain how this cycle is generated.

In the ‘Information Age’, it has become increasingly important to be able to understand the Sun’s magnetic activity, as it is the changes in its magnetic field that are responsible for ‘space weather’ phenomena, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections. When this weather heads in the direction of Earth it can damage satellites, endanger astronauts on the International Space Station and cause power grid outages on the ground.

The research, published in the journal Nature, explains how the cyclical nature of these large-scale magnetic fields emerges, providing a solution to the mathematical equations governing fluids and electromagnetism for a large astrophysical body.

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NASA Deciphering The Mysterious Math Of The Solar Wind

February 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Many areas of scientific research — Earth’s weather, ocean currents, the outpouring of magnetic energy from the sun — require mapping out the large scale features of a complex system and its intricate details simultaneously.

Describing such systems accurately, relies on numerous kinds of input, beginning with observations of the system, incorporating mathematical equations to approximate those observations, running computer simulations to attempt to replicate observations, and cycling back through all the steps to refine and improve the models until they jibe with what’s seen. Ultimately, the models successfully help scientists describe, and even predict, how the system works.

Understanding the sun and how the material and energy it sends out affects the solar system is crucial, since it creates a dynamic space weather system that can disrupt human technology in space such as communications and global positioning system (GPS) satellites.

However, the sun and its prodigious stream of solar particles, called the solar wind, can be particularly tricky to model since as the material streams to the outer reaches of the solar system it carries along its own magnetic fields. The magnetic forces add an extra set of laws to incorporate when trying to determine what’s governing the movement. Indeed, until now, equations for certain aspects of the solar wind have never been successfully devised to correlate to the observations seen by instruments in space. Now, for the first time, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has created a set of the necessary equations, published in Physical Review Letters on Dec. 4, 2012.

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Journey To The Limits Of Spacetime

February 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Voracious absences at the center of galaxies, black holes shape the growth and death of the stars around them through their powerful gravitational pull and explosive ejections of energy.

“Over its lifetime, a black hole can release more energy than all the stars in a galaxy combined,” said Roger Blandford, director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. “Black holes have a major impact on the formation of galaxies and the environmental growth and evolution of those galaxies.”

Gravitational forces grow so strong close to a black hole that even light cannot escape from within, hence the difficulty in observing them directly. Scientists infer facts about black holes by their influence on the astronomical objects around them: the orbit of stars and clumps of detectable energy. With this information in hand, scientists create computer models to understand the data and to make predictions about the physics of distant regions of space. However, models are only as good as their assumptions.

“All tests of general relativity in the weak gravity field limit, like in our solar system, fall directly along the lines of what Einstein predicted,” explained Jonathan McKinney, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park. “But there is another regime—which has yet to be tested, and which is the hardest to test—that represents the strong gravitational field limit. And according to Einstein, gravity is strongest near black holes.”

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