On December 4, NASA launches a satellite that will study how the earth’s atmosphere “escapes” into space. Scientists have found out that the Earth’s atmosphere loses about 90 tons of material (oxygen ions, hydrogen, and helium) daily, which flows into space from its upper layers. In this article, we will talk about some atmosphere facts and importance of atmosphere on the Earth and magnetosphere.
And despite the fact that the European Space Agency has long been exploring this phenomenon, there are still many questions connected with this “leakage”: how and why the Earth loses a part of its atmosphere and how is it related to the search for a different life in the open space of the Universe.
Considering the size of the Earth’s atmosphere, a loss of 90 tons per day is not critical. The atmosphere of the planet weighs about five quadrillions (5 × 1015) tons, so this process will not pose a threat to humanity in the near future.
To explore this phenomenon, NASA launches Visions-2 satellite. The device will make very short, for a few minutes, departures into space, and then return back. The study of leaks of the earth’s atmosphere will answer the various questions of cosmology.
An understanding of the nature and mechanism of this process is the key to studying the atmospheres of other planets, which, in turn, can be crucial in the search for other inhabited planets and extraterrestrial life.
What is the magnetosphere?
The Earth’s magnetosphere, the zone of influence of the planet’s magnetic field in space, is being studied by ESA specialists using four spacecraft launched in 2000. Scientists have found that the magnetosphere — and its inner part, the plasmasphere, which is shaped like a donut and which extends an average of 20,000 kilometers — is filled with charged particles and ions.
On the outer edge, directed towards the Sun, the magnetosphere collides with the solar wind, a continuous stream of charged particles – mainly protons and electrons. In this case, the magnetic field of the planet acts as a shield, protecting the Earth from the negative impact of the star.
On the other side of the particles sent by the Sun form a so-called magnetic tail, which consists of trapped plasma particles and interacting field lines. However, the Earth’s magnetosphere has its weak points. At the poles, the lines of force are open, like a standard bar magnet.
Here particles of the solar wind can penetrate into the “shield”, filling the magnetosphere with charged particles. Through these “holes” in the magnetic shield of the planet, ions from the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere can penetrate into this region of space. However, the details of the interaction process between incoming and outgoing material in the Earth’s magnetosphere are still a mystery to scientists
In the meantime, we can only be sure that solar storms and periods of increased solar activity increase the Earth’s atmospheric losses by more than three times.
One of the key processes of removing matter from the earth’s atmosphere is called centrifugal acceleration, which at the poles of the Earth accelerates ions crossing the shape-generating lines of the magnetic field. When they receive certain energy, these ions eventually break out into the magnetic tail of the Earth, where they interact with the plasma and return to Earth at much higher speeds.
This boomerang effect, according to some experts, can pose a threat to modern space technology, so understanding this process is so important for scientists. A number of recent studies have also revealed the relationship of atmospheric loss with such phenomena as leakage of matter from the ionosphere, plumes of the plasmasphere and repeated magnetic coupling.