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New FASTSAT discoveries paint detailed view of region near Earth
Date:11/14/2011

Space around Earth is anything but a barren vacuum. The area seethes with electric and magnetic fields that change constantly. Charged particles flow through, moving energy around, creating electric currents, and producing the aurora. Many of these particles stream in from the solar wind, starting out 93 million miles away on the surface of the sun. But some areas are dominated by particles of a more local source: Earth's atmosphere.

These are the particles being watched by FASTSAT's Miniature Imager for Neutral Ionospheric Atoms and Magnetospheric Electrons (MINI-ME) instrument. For one well-defined event, scientists have compared MINI-ME's observations to those from two other instruments. The event shows a detailed picture of this dynamic region, with a host of interrelated phenomena -- such as electric current and outflowing particles occurring together.

"We're seeing structures that are fairly consistent throughout a handful of instruments," says Michael Collier at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is the principal investigator for MINI-ME. "We put all of these observations together and it tells a story greater than the sum of its parts."

Unlike the hotter hydrogen coming from the sun, Earth's upper atmosphere generally supplies cooler oxygen ions that course outward along Earth's magnetic field lines. This "ion outflow" occurs continuously, but is especially strong during periods when there is more solar activity such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections that burst off the sun and move toward Earth. Such activity drives oxygen ions out of our planet's upper atmosphere, particularly in regions where aurora displays are strong.

"These ion outflow events are important because they help us understand the space weather environment around Earth," says Goddard's Doug Rowland who is the principal investigator for FASTSAT's Plasma Impedance Spectrum Analyzer, or PISA instrument. "The heavy ions
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Contact: Susan Hendrix
Susan.m.hendrix@nasa.gov
301-286-7745
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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New FASTSAT discoveries paint detailed view of region near Earth
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