A space storm has been observed exploding from a central point in Earth’s upper atmosphere for the first time. The result could one day lead to better predictions of the storms, which can harm satellites and power grids on the ground.
The energy that powers space storms comes from clouds of plasma hurled at Earth by the sun. These clouds stretch our planet’s magnetic field like a rubber band, storing energy in a long magnetic tail behind our planet.
The energy released when the field snaps back into place creates the ethereal glow of auroras (see a gallery of the light shows). It also floods the space around our planet with radiation that can incapacitate satellites and sicken astronauts, and can trigger electric currents on Earth capable of knocking out power gridsMovie Camera.
Now, scientists have obtained the clearest view yet of the energy that was released in the magnetic tail arriving and initiating a disturbance in Earth’s upper atmosphere, or ionosphere.