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

flowing away from Earth can act as a brake, or damper, on incoming energy from the solar wind. The flow also indicates ways in which planets can lose their atmospheres something that happens slowly on Earth, but more quickly on smaller planets with weaker magnetic fields, like Mars."

MINI-ME has been successfully spotting such outflows since the instrument first began to collect data in the winter of 2010. The instrument counts ions as it moves through a part of Earth's atmosphere called the ionosphere. This is the region where the particles gain enough speed and energy to overcome Earth's gravity, so it's an ideal place to study the first step in the outflow process.

Late on March 31, 2011, the FASTSAT spacecraft flew through an ion outflow with well-defined areas of increased fast moving, or "energetic," particles.

Simultaneous observations from PISA, which measures the density of material in the atmosphere, also showed that this was a highly structured auroral zone. In addition, the scientists turned to the National Science Foundation's Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), a mission managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which measures current flow and magnetic features through a network of instruments placed on commercial satellites owned by Iridium Communications. AMPERE data showed current structures that were also consistent with what is expected for an auroral zone.

"This is just one event," says Collier. "But it helps confirm the idea that the current and ion-outflows are all connected. As we continue to go through the data, there will be many more events to follow. We'd like to be able to pin down the origin of all these mechanisms in the ionosphere."

Over time, data like this will allow scientists to determine where these ions come from, what drives them, and how their intensity varies with incoming solar activity.


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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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