Sunday, January 04, 2004

Cracks in Earth's Magnetic Shield Violent solar storms, like coronal mass ejections, can send a billion tons of electrified gas (electrons and ions) into space at millions of miles per hour -- and the only thing protecting us, is the Earth's magnetic field. The magnetosphere, the part of the magnetic field that extends like a shield around the planet, deflects most of Sun's particles -- it serves to protect satellites in space and the electrical grids around the world. Recently however, NASA's IMAGE spacecraft and the joint NASA/ESA Cluster satellites discovered that immense cracks can sometimes develop in the magnetosphere, and remain open for hours, allowing particles from the Sun to breach Earth's defenses. Not to worry though, those particles hardly ever reach Earth, as our atmosphere serves as the final barrier to protecting life -- most of the effects are felt in the upper atmosphere.

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