Earth leaking atmosphere - plasma

Earth leaking atmosphere into Space

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The cluster mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) was introduced in 1982 with the goal to investigate the magnetosphere of Earth. Earth’s magnetic field extends from the inner core outwards and matches approximately the field created by a dipole magnet. That field is what protect us from harmful radiation from the Sun and the cosmic rays. Earth’s magnetosphere is the space around Earth where particles like ions and electrons (constituting plasma) move on the Earth’s magnetic field lines.

Recently, ESA verified what has been a theory until now, which is that plasma is escaping Earth’s plasma sphere, which is the inner part of the magnetosphere, and is doing so at a scale of approximately 90 tonnes per day. This is something that also takes place on our Sun when we have solar winds.

In the 90s it was observed that when Earth’s magnetosphere is hit by solar storms and the magnetic field is compressed, dense columns of plasma are created that release plasma to the outer layers of the magnetosphere depleting the plasma which is then refreshed with plasma from the ionosphere, as Dr Iannis Dandouras explains.

But now it has been proved that it is not only in extreme events that plasma is leaking to space but it is a steady and continuous process of atmospheric loss. Is that bad? Well maybe if we didn’t have any trees on the planet that create oxygen. But because we do and because Earth is big, such a leak is not of a concern. Studying the process will allow us to understand how the atmospheric loss takes place and compare it with similar phenomena taking place on other planets at different rates, Dr Dandouras said.

By John Black

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