Insights into the physics of space weather that disrupts cell phones and creates Earthly havoc

From the American Physical Society News from the 2014 APS Division of Plasma Physics Meeting Each second, the sun hurls millions of tons of hot, charged plasma gas into space. This volatile “solar wind” buffets the magnetosphere, the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, and can whip up geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell phone service,…

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Observing the Birkeland currents borne of the solar wind

  When the supersonic solar wind hits the Earth’s magnetic field, a powerful electrical connection occurs with Earth’s field, generating millions of amperes of current that drive the dazzling auroras. These so-called Birkeland currents connect the ionosphere to the magnetosphere and channel solar wind energy to Earth’s uppermost atmosphere. Solar storms release torrential blasts of solar…