NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit – To Study Magnetic Reconnection

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.

Following a successful launch at 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday, NASA’s four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft are positioned in Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mission dedicated to the study of a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. This process is thought to be the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.

The spacecraft, positioned one on top of the other on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. After reaching orbit, each spacecraft deployed from the rocket’s upper stage sequentially, in five-minute increments, beginning at 12:16 a.m. Friday, with the last separation occurring at 12:31 a.m. NASA scientists and engineers were able to confirm the health of all separated spacecraft at 12:40 a.m.

“I am speaking for the entire MMS team when I say we’re thrilled to see all four of our spacecraft have deployed and data indicates we have a healthy fleet,” said Craig Tooley, project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Over the next several weeks, NASA scientists and engineers will deploy booms and antennas on the spacecraft, and test all instruments. The observatories will later be placed into a pyramid formation in preparation for science observations, which are expected to begin in early September.

“After a decade of planning and engineering, the science team is ready to go to work,” said Jim Burch, principal investigator for the MMS instrument suite science team at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio (SwRI). “We’ve never had this type of opportunity to study this fundamental process in such detail.”

NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit, Preparing to Study Magnetic ReconnectionThe mission will provide the first three-dimensional views of reconnection occurring in Earth’s protective magnetic space environment, the magnetosphere. Magnetic reconnection occurs when magnetic fields connect, disconnect, and reconfigure explosively, releasing bursts of energy that can reach the order of billions of megatons of trinitrotoluene (commonly known as TNT). These explosions can send particles surging through space near the speed of light.

Scientists expect the mission will not only help them better understand magnetic reconnection, but also will provide insight into these powerful events, which can disrupt modern technological systems such as communications networks, GPS navigation, and electrical power grids.

NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit, Preparing to Study Magnetic Reconnection

This animation shows a solar tsunami—also known as an EIT wave, after SOHO’s Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, which took the first images of these events—expanding out from an active region just after a solar flare on July 14, 2000. Solar tsunamis, which often happen in conjunction with coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, gave scientists the first clues as to whether halo CMEs—which spread out all around the sun in coronagraph images—were heading directly toward or away from Earth

By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, scientists can understand the process elsewhere, such as in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system’s heliosphere and interstellar space.NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit, Preparing to Study Magnetic Reconnection

NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit, Preparing to Study Magnetic Reconnection

Comet Encke’s ion tail can be seen stretching away from the sun towards the top of the image, captured by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft on Nov. 17, 2013, when the comet was about 33 million miles from the sun. The tail is created when the solar wind sweeps over the comet, capturing vaporized material and causing it to trail out behind the comet. The tail follows the lines of the magnetic field ingrained in the solar wind and reveals its motion.

NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit, Preparing to Study Magnetic Reconnection

Solar prominence as observed by SDO on Oct. 15, 2015

Staff Writer

Leo Ashcraft

A retired broadcast engineer, talk show host, news reporter - I have done everything there is to do in the radio broadcast business. I worked a year in television. I left that as my true passion has always been radio - plus I got tired of hearing - you have a face for radio.. I hope you enjoy my articles! Be sure to share them excessively on facebook - like our page and bug your friends with invites!

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