07 December 2006

Earth has huge whirlpools

Several times the size of the whole planet, to be more precise.

These plasma whirlpools feed Earth’s magnetic field with fresh (cooler & denser) plasma from the solar wind. Think of it as being like Earth’s power plug curled up in space.

Until recently, scientists weren’t able to observe the whirlpools’ involvement, but Katariina Nykyri and her team were able to piece observations from ESA’s Cluster quartet of satellites together to demonstrate the effect.

It’s one of the protective features of the Earth which has no doubt helped us to survive the radioactive disinhibitions of stars, including our “own” Sun.

For an idea of scale, the whirlpools are several tens of thousands of kilometers across, so you wouldn’t exactly be facing bright flares in space, or anything like that if you went out to look at them.

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