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Scientists may have finally figured out how and why these leaks are appearing in the Earth's magnetic field

Satellite images collected by the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) mission revealed another large breach in the magnetic field responsible for protecting the Earth.

The magnetosphere helps protect the Earth from severe space weather, including possible disruptive solar winds, scientists said.  Being able to learn more about these holes will help scientists predict when electrical storms occur.

"The discovery overturns a long-standing belief about how and when most of the solar particles penetrate Earth's magnetic field, and could be used to predict when solar storms will be severe," UCLA NASA THEMIS mission investigator Vassilis Angelopoulos said in a statement.  "Based on these results, we expect more severe storms during the upcoming solar cycle."

Themis research indicates the magnetosphere sometimes has two cracks, which are big enough for solar wind -- with speeds up to 1 million MPH -- to hit the Earth's upper atmosphere.

The solar particles are electrically charged, which was no problem, but our magnetic field has tears that let the particles breach.

"Twenty times more solar particles cross the Earth's leaky magnetic shield when the sun's magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth compared to when the two magnetic fields are oppositely directed," according to Cal researcher Marit Oieroset.

Scientists figured some type of "closed door" entry mechanism was used, but they weren't sure how important the closed door is for Earth.  Most particles hit the shield and float back into space, but some of the particles that get through are able to get energized while leading to possible power grid outages.

Most solar storms occur during the halfway section and on the final stretch of a solar cycle.  In 2008 it's at a minimum, and will reach its peak four years from now.





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