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Earth Power Space Science

Surprise Discovery In Earth's Upper Atmosphere 243

elyons sends word out of UCLA of a completely unexpected discovery in the physics of the Sun-Earth interaction — a previously unknown basic mode of energy transfer from the solar wind to the Earth's magnetosphere. "'It's like something else is heating the atmosphere besides the sun. This discovery is like finding it got hotter when the sun went down,' said Larry Lyons, UCLA professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences. 'We all have thought for our entire careers — I learned it as a graduate student — that this energy transfer rate is primarily controlled by the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field. The closer to southward-pointing the magnetic field is, the stronger the energy transfer rate is, and the stronger the magnetic field is in that direction. [It turns out that] if it is both southward and big, the energy transfer rate is even bigger.'" The researchers have two papers on the discovery coming out in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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Surprise Discovery In Earth's Upper Atmosphere

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  • by mudshark ( 19714 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @01:32AM (#29403115)
    Saying "It's like something else is heating the atmosphere besides the sun" when they're talking about the interaction of the solar wind and the magnetosphere is more than a little disingenuous....
    • Would there be some way to tap the energy from these fluctuations? Instead of solar power arrays in space, could we just have giant blimps floating in the upper atmosphere with large coils in their superstructure to take advantage of magnetic fluctuations? They could then beam that energy down as microwaves to a receiving station.
      • by gmuslera ( 3436 )
        Why do one thing if you could take the opportunity to do 3? Mixing capturing electricity from this source and bringing it down by wires, with an spatial elevator, and maybe more energy orbital getting "traditional" solar energy. This could even turn profitable in the middle term building a spatial elevator
    • While the 'global warming implications' that would be inaccurately applied to this paper are unfortunate his statement isn't scientifically inaccurate: []

      • If I understand correctly then the effect is caused when a solar flare blasts against the earth's normal flow of magnetic energy. When the solar flare blasts the earth's atmosphere in a way that we have less friction then there are less storms. When a flare blasts directly against that normal current we get a lot of storms.

        My thought is that it's kind of like spraying a ball with a water hose. As you move towards the side of the sphere some of the water follows the surface of the ball all the way around and

      • "The exosphere is the uppermost layer of an atmosphere. In the exosphere, an upward travelling molecule can escape to space if it is moving fast enough to attain escape velocity; otherwise it will be pulled back to the celestial body by gravity. In either case, such a molecule is unlikely to collide with another molecule due to the exosphere's low density."

        I believe this is the particular line you were referencing? In which case maybe I do grock what you were getting at.

  • by lewoot ( 1636471 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @01:37AM (#29403135)
    Okay so when I first saw the title, I read it as "Surprise! Discovery In Earth's Upper Atmosphere" and thought the landing a couple of days ago was a hoax or something.
  • by Cheesetrap ( 1597399 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @01:51AM (#29403171)

    "It's like something else is heating the atmosphere besides the sun."

    The orbiting teapot [] must have boiled! ;)

  • I hope it's not a subspace anomaly left open by a Goa'uld mothership!
  • diff eq problem? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 13, 2009 @02:11AM (#29403217)

    > "Heejeong separated the data into when the solar wind was fluctuating a lot and when it
    > was fluctuating a little," he added. "When the interplanetary magnetic field fluctuations
    > are low, she saw the pattern everyone knows,

    That is, the likelihood of "substorms" in Earh's ionoshpere is a function of how "northward"
    or "southward" Earth's manetosphere is. More southward, more storms, worse
    satellite TV reception.

    > but when she analyzed the pattern when the interplanetary magnetic field was
    > fluctuating strongly, that pattern completely disappeared. Instead, the strength of the
    > flows depended on the strength of the fluctuations.

    There's this "interplanetary magnetic field" between the Sun and Earth. The solar wind
    is Earthward charged particles from the Sun. These particles interact with the Earth's
    magnetisphere. When you have large changes in the solar wind, there are more
    substorms, and worse satellite TV reception.

    So, pseudo-diff-eq, their contribution is the second term (or maybe I'm missing the point):
                    substorm likelihood =
                    southwardness of magnetosphere +
                    change of solar wind intensity with respect to time

    Poor graduate student. So much data...
    It's good to see some basic science being done though. More, please!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by thogard ( 43403 )

      Something else that has been observed but mostly not well understood is how this may effect rainfall. There are a couple of low level magnetic north poles sitting off Perth and they formed about the same time as the rain stopped in that area.

  • solar winds = sun. root cause people.....
  • The Hell? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 13, 2009 @02:52AM (#29403325)

    Why is this being tagged "climate change" with people yammering about global warming? This is a previously unexpected form of energy transfer but would have been occuring since...oh...our planet had a magnetosphere and there is not a single mention in the article concerning climate change or global warming.

    • Re:The Hell? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @04:13AM (#29403579)

      Why is this being tagged "climate change" with people yammering about global warming? This is a previously unexpected form of energy transfer but would have been occuring since...oh...our planet had a magnetosphere and there is not a single mention in the article concerning climate change or global warming.

      I agree that there is no link to climate change but that doesn't stop all of the conspiracy theorist trolls. Without the link to climate change, we could only talk about this new science that was discovered and that would be boring. Now we get to waste our time reading the standard climate conspiracy rants.

      • Maybe, maybe not. His basis for discounting this in climate change is false. While its true that this form of energy transfer would have been occurring for as long as our planet has had a magnetosphere it does not follow that the amount of energy transferred via that mechanism has remained static over that time.

    • so a previously unknown variable is discovered and you discount it because it doesn't fit your current hypothesis??!!

      science has left the building folks....

  • by YourExperiment ( 1081089 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @02:52AM (#29403327)

    Larry: This discovery is like finding it got hotter when the sun went down.

    Interviewer: So, the temperature actually goes up when the sun sets?

    Larry: Er, no.

    Interviewer: No? What does happen then?

    Larry: Um, well... the temperature goes... down, I guess.

    Interviewer: Okay. Thanks for that Larry.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @02:54AM (#29403335)

    TFA is one of the most confused articles I've seen in a long time.

    If Stuart Wolpert had just let the scientists write it, chances are it might be intelligible. As it is it was muddled, convoluted, mis-stated, and just plain wrong on many points.

    Never let a journalism student, or worse yet, one who hung around after graduating into the Science buildings.

  • by jnnnnn ( 1079877 ) on Sunday September 13, 2009 @02:59AM (#29403345)

    Whales and flowerpots.

    Disappointment is me.

  • by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Sunday September 13, 2009 @07:55AM (#29404325)

    To me, the most interesting point of this discovery is that it should improve our understanding of shortwave radio propagation.

    It has always frustrated me that the same space program that is producing the data needed to understand the physics needed to make accurate, day-to-day predictions of ionospheric propagation -- a hundred-year-old mystery -- is also the same space program that replaced commercial HF communication with satellites, greatly reducing the economic value of such predictions (and, therefore, the science funding to make them). So now that we have the ability, we no longer have the desire . . . unless one is an amateur radio operator, and it's harder to think of an entity lower on the economic value chain than that.

    The most difficult path for shortwave links is one that passes near the magnetic poles, like the path from Southeast Asia to the US East Coast that passes over the north magnetic pole. Energy from the solar wind couples into the Earth's magnetic field; in particular, charged particles are directed parallel to the field. This is great for propagation over most of the planet; however, near the poles the magnetic field becomes vertical and these particles are directed perpendicular to the ground, where they form a ring of radio wave attenuation and refraction [] in the upper atmosphere that closes this path for many days out of a given month. To open this path there has to be minimal energy coupling from the solar wind, and there is very little understanding of when this will occur. Even the best propagation prediction software (e.g., VOACAP [] and Proplab Pro []) is based on statistics, giving one the probability of a given path being open.

    This discovery should add to our understanding of how and when these paths will open. Until then, we have to survive on "Space Weather" web sites like [] these [], and turn on a radio to see for ourselves what the day brings.

    (Those interested in an accessible introduction to HF propagation can check out K9LA's propagation site [].)

  • That damn unshielded reactor just keeps causing us problems - damn it, damn it to hell. But seriously, this kind of reminds me of the Tacoma Narrows bridge failure. Second order forces thought to be inconsequential end up causing a dramatic change in behavior. Also, the vitriol of many comments is amazing. Probably sounds just like the Church when discussing a certain Italian.
  • a flame war centred around the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    Can one of our atheist friends here on Slashdot outline to us, where this discovery stands in relation to the Second Law? Have we finally arrived at the moment we've all been breathlessly waiting for; the Second Law's violation?

    I'm seriously hoping so; I've waited for years now for the ability to have a magnetic motor next to the power supply in my desktop, and run it without plugging it into the wall. That would seriously be awesome. ;)

  • Does it run Linux?

    • No. It runs windows. The solution to global warming is to format and load linux on the box. Then it just sit in the closet and gather dust as it runs happily along.

      Anyone who admins *nix and windows equipment knows what I mean. The windows boxen stay clean and sparkly. By the time you finally have to physically interact with the *nix machine you'll be choking on the dust.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun