Earth's Magnetic Field Has Massive Breach – scientists baffled

I know. This sounds like a plot of a 1950’s scifi movie. But it is real. From my view, our localized corner of the solar system is now different than it used to be and changes in the magnetic interactions are evident everywhere. First we have the interplanetary magnetic field that took an abrupt dive in October 2005 and has not recovered since and remains at very low level:

ap_dec08-520

click for a larger image

Then we have the recent discovery that the ionosphere has dropped in altitude to unexpected and unexplained low levels.

We have a solar cycle 24 (driven by the solar magnetic dynamo) which can’t seem to get out of the starting gate, being a year late with forecasts for activity from it being revised again and again.

And finally we have this, this discovery that Earth’s magnetic field can be ripped open and our atmosphere laid bare to the solar wind, much like Mars.

Magnetism is underrated in the grand scheme of things, in my opinion. We’d do well to pay more attention to magnetic trends in our corner of the universe and what effects it has on Earthly climate. – Anthony


From NASA News (h/t to Geoff Sharp)

Dec. 16, 2008: NASA’s five THEMIS spacecraft have discovered a breach in Earth’s magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist. Solar wind can flow in through the opening to “load up” the magnetosphere for powerful geomagnetic storms. But the breach itself is not the biggest surprise. Researchers are even more amazed at the strange and unexpected way it forms, overturning long-held ideas of space physics.

“At first I didn’t believe it,” says THEMIS project scientist David Sibeck of the Goddard Space Flight Center. “This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction.”

The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds Earth and protects us from solar wind. Exploring the bubble is a key goal of the THEMIS mission, launched in February 2007. The big discovery came on June 3, 2007, when the five probes serendipitously flew through the breach just as it was opening. Onboard sensors recorded a torrent of solar wind particles streaming into the magnetosphere, signaling an event of unexpected size and importance.

Right: One of the THEMIS probes exploring the space around Earth, an artist’s concept. [more]

“The opening was huge—four times wider than Earth itself,” says Wenhui Li, a space physicist at the University of New Hampshire who has been analyzing the data. Li’s colleague Jimmy Raeder, also of New Hampshire, says “1027 particles per second were flowing into the magnetosphere—that’s a 1 followed by 27 zeros. This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible.”

The event began with little warning when a gentle gust of solar wind delivered a bundle of magnetic fields from the Sun to Earth. Like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a big clam, solar magnetic fields draped themselves around the magnetosphere and cracked it open. The cracking was accomplished by means of a process called “magnetic reconnection.” High above Earth’s poles, solar and terrestrial magnetic fields linked up (reconnected) to form conduits for solar wind. Conduits over the Arctic and Antarctic quickly expanded; within minutes they overlapped over Earth’s equator to create the biggest magnetic breach ever recorded by Earth-orbiting spacecraft.

Above: A computer model of solar wind flowing around Earth’s magnetic field on June 3, 2007. Background colors represent solar wind density; red is high density, blue is low. Solid black lines trace the outer boundaries of Earth’s magnetic field. Note the layer of relatively dense material beneath the tips of the white arrows; that is solar wind entering Earth’s magnetic field through the breach. Credit: Jimmy Raeder/UNH. [larger image]

The size of the breach took researchers by surprise. “We’ve seen things like this before,” says Raeder, “but never on such a large scale. The entire day-side of the magnetosphere was open to the solar wind.”

The circumstances were even more surprising. Space physicists have long believed that holes in Earth’s magnetosphere open only in response to solar magnetic fields that point south. The great breach of June 2007, however, opened in response to a solar magnetic field that pointed north.

“To the lay person, this may sound like a quibble, but to a space physicist, it is almost seismic,” says Sibeck. “When I tell my colleagues, most react with skepticism, as if I’m trying to convince them that the sun rises in the west.”

Here is why they can’t believe their ears: The solar wind presses against Earth’s magnetosphere almost directly above the equator where our planet’s magnetic field points north. Suppose a bundle of solar magnetism comes along, and it points north, too. The two fields should reinforce one another, strengthening Earth’s magnetic defenses and slamming the door shut on the solar wind. In the language of space physics, a north-pointing solar magnetic field is called a “northern IMF” and it is synonymous with shields up!

“So, you can imagine our surprise when a northern IMF came along and shields went down instead,” says Sibeck. “This completely overturns our understanding of things.”

Northern IMF events don’t actually trigger geomagnetic storms, notes Raeder, but they do set the stage for storms by loading the magnetosphere with plasma. A loaded magnetosphere is primed for auroras, power outages, and other disturbances that can result when, say, a CME (coronal mass ejection) hits.

The years ahead could be especially lively. Raeder explains: “We’re entering Solar Cycle 24. For reasons not fully understood, CMEs in even-numbered solar cycles (like 24) tend to hit Earth with a leading edge that is magnetized north. Such a CME should open a breach and load the magnetosphere with plasma just before the storm gets underway. It’s the perfect sequence for a really big event.”

Sibeck agrees. “This could result in stronger geomagnetic storms than we have seen in many years.”

For more information about the THEMIS mission, visit http://nasa.gov/themis


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Steven Hill

Typical thought from man…
“This finding fundamentally alters our understanding”
God created it!

Jack Wedel

In archeological time frames, the earth’s magnetic field has frequently ‘flipped’ so that North magnetic becomes South magnetic. Any theories how this might happen and what the causes might be, like unprecendented cosmic ray bombardment? Maybe it will break down (ionize) and disperse all the CO2 out of the atmosphere and all plants will die. What ho – a new panic attack!

Gary Hladik

Darn it, just when you think magnetospheric science is settled… 🙂

This could explain the insanity going on in Washington D.C.

What we know you could write a book, what we don’t know would fill a library. Who was it that said man’s assumptions, that’s assumptions, get it, were right in the first place. Just because you assume, does not make it so.
And what if cycle 24 is a bummer and does a slumber walk-by instead of roaring.

Now where know where all that nasty man-made heat is hiding, it’s in the magnetic hole.
Anyone for the new AGW – Antimagnetic Global Warming?

Deanster

Wow …
My Neighbor just got back from Cancun .. .came back babbling something about the Miyan Calender ending in 2012, and something about the Earths magnetic pole flipping …….
Hmmmmmm …. could this be the precursor???????????

Anthony says, “Magnetism is underrated in the grand scheme of things, in my opinion.”
Yes it is. It is just as important as electricity, in fact they are two sides of the same coin.
So for those interested in the strongest magnets commercially available: click
Click on “Magnets” on the left side of the page.

DR

Ok Anthony, once again you’re bringing this up. What is it exactly you suspect is or will be the effect of these phenomenon? Off the record of course.

Mike McMillan

So I should start wearing a tinfoil hat again?

Bobby Lane

“This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible.”
Yes, once again demonstrating that science still has a lot to learn. Perhaps some people, including but not limited to the AGW crowd, will learn some humility. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Not even if I had 10 to the 27th power dollars.

Edward

I don’t think this was predicted by any of the existing GCM’s therefore it cannot exist.
More importantly, what are the implications of this new finding?

Bobby Lane

“This completely overturns our understanding of things.”
Sibeck agrees. “This could result in stronger geomagnetic storms than we have seen in many years.”
Maybe one day we’ll wake up to the fact that it’s not such a small world after all, and that it’s not going to be us who does us in.

David

Wow. And to think that erroneous predictions about the Arctic Ice melting get front-page headlines (back in June, anyway), but this gets nothing. Literally nothing. I would not have heard of this had Anthony not put this up here, but it is happening now, and is probably far more consequential than the Arctic Ice melting, even though it did not actually melt.

Robert Bateman

Forget AGW, we have AGM (Another Grand Minimum).
We are working on Year 13 here, and now it starts to get serious.
Even if this is SC24, it’s about as lifeless as they come.
Ask the guy on the street about the Deep Solar Minimum, and you get a blank stare. When summer comes rolling around and it ain’t, they’ll know something has gone wrong.
Who’s going to break it to them?

A.Syme

It’s those unknown unknowns that will get you every time!
I’m wondering if this type of radiation would be trapped in the Van Allen belts.

we are living history
all we can do is wait and see
since we have so few records what is happening this may or may not be typical

Brooklyn Red Leg

Well, well….another feather in the cap of the Electric/Plasma Universe model appears to be shaping up. I bet Planetary Cosmologists that heard about this are going nuts to try and explain it. At least, that is what it appears like to a layman like me. Once more, and with feeling, to all the AGW dolts ‘Its the Sun, stupid!’.
Seriously though, this does make for an interesting scenario. I truly do wonder how the Electric/Plasma Universe advocates will use this extremely valuable nugget of information.

Syl

“we are living history”
The current global climate/sun relationship and the global financial breakdown are two very interesting and intriguing phenomena that I find both fascinating and frightening. Both of which I’d rather read about in history books than live through. Interesting times indeed.
I think God is giving the finger to the warmers who are using the financial breakdown as an opportunity to implement their agenda. May they notice the insult before it is too late.

crosspatch

Well, first of all we have to consider that if we found this the first time we sent a probe that was actually looking at it, it is probably something that has been happening over and over again throughout time. It probably isn’t a rare thing, we have simply only now noticed it. I would say the probability is good that it is interesting but most likely not harmful in any way.
You have to remember that during field reversals, the Earth can be without any significant magnetic field for quite a long time. Being without a magnetic field for relatively short periods isn’t so bad. We would experience increased erosion of the atmosphere into space and probably serious ozone damage from any major CMEs that might happen during that time if directed right at Earth.
This is probably something that happens quite often. Probably a rather routine event that we just happened to see for the first time.

AnyMouse

Fortunately, it appears the scientists who are wearing baffles are not also those wearing blinders.

MarkB

“This finding fundamentally alters our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction.”
So the scientific consensus changed? My, my….

Bernie

So what is the cause this time? We have had CFCs and CO2, maybe it is television now. I am sure it can be modelled.

How long will it be before this new discovery is attributed to naughty people driving cars and burning coal?
Remember, we cause not just global warming but climate change, and not just climate change but climate chaos (the new phrase rapidly being adopted by doomsayers everywhere). What greater evidence can there be of the wickedness we do than a reversal of previously established orthodoxy casting a whole branch of science into chaos?
Mark my words, within a month or two we will find “hole in the earth’s magnetic field” being added to the list of things for which we will have to bear responsibility. It will just be thrown into the mix not analysed, in the same way that hurricanes and melting ice in summer are used wholly inaccurately and out of context to support the AGW bandwagon.

BillR

In response to Syl, hopefully God’s plan is that the financial meltdown will prevent any of our government’s rash and disastrous plans to combat AGW going through…

Mike Pickett

twawki wrote…”we are living history”
“since we have so few records what is happening this may or may not be typical”
Absolutely…huzzah….
Having taken a course in solar physics with Sydney Chapman, Larmore, Bartels and others, I think I can speak with a little credibility. It is time to shut up and take notes.
We have a solar magnetic environment that has decreased in intensity by over 10%. We have no significant sun-spots. We have a breach in our magnetosphere. We have a cold line, tonight, that is a copy of what David Archibald has described as our coming crop lines (http://www.intelliweather.net/imagery/intelliweather/templine_nat_320x240.jpg )
We keep talking about Dalton Cycles, Maunder Cycles. Let’s shut up and watch, because we are seeing all the technical details of one of those two cycles, or something in between. Because of our incredible space “sensors.” We are watching the solar-terrestrial system oscillate, as it has for eons.
I remember watching the “echo” balloon cross the sky, and someone bounced a signal off of it…wow. Now we have sensors in space…everywhere. We’re so lucky. We have sensors out there like those on a heart attack patient in a hospital…
We are also watching the end (I hope) of a religion that was focused on scientific clap-trap (which most are). I speak of that religion so aptly identified by Freeman Dyson, “Environmentalism.” That religion was poised to strip mankind of more wealth, rather than concentrate on preserving the health of our environment.
We are going to have to hunker down, now, and see how we can sustain life in this great change. We have NO idea what changes have occurred in the jet stream by the addition of the strange attractor called “3 Gorges Dam.” We are about to find out. So, again, let’s shut up and take notes.
Wouldn’t it be exceptional if people would now devote their energies to seeing how this “incoming” relates to the ice cores, the tree cores, the ocean bottom cores, &c., so we can say, “ah, now we know what a Maunder Cycle looks like,” or ah, “now we know what a Dalton cycle looks like.”
Meanwhile, folks…”put another log on the fahre…”
And, having two cycles in hand, we can kick in Fourier (which I once used in the aerospace industry to analyze PIGA behavior…go look it up) analysis to get an overall spectral picture of solar cycles over millenia. If we’d just shut up and take notes, we can accurately extrapolate the future for 1000 years at a pop.
I’m in the twilight of my life…I am hoping to be here a few more years to see this incredible event unfold. Most of you folks are young and ready to assemble the data. So, assemble. You’re so lucky.
And puleeeeeeze…don’t let anyone make some kind of religion out of this… including the 2012 thing…”no one knows”….

Rick Sharp

Damn, I lost a filling in my tooth and then this.

crosspatch

“MarkB (20:28:04)”
I think you actually hit on the crux if the issue. Boiled down to its essence, it says “we still don’t know how things really work”. So keep that in mind when the “experts” tell us that something we are doing is causing some new phenomenon. Say, something like an ozone hole that was there the first time they looked for it.

G Alston

FatBigot — “Mark my words, within a month or two we will find “hole in the earth’s magnetic field” being added to the list of things for which we will have to bear responsibility.”
I doubt this. AGW believers are, as are most environmental types of that ilk, luddites first and foremost. There is more genuine info re the sun here than on any of the Warmer sites. Here you will find stuff that is normally the forte of spaceref and such. Boundries of knowledge as it were. No stone left unturned. Skeptics are interested in *everything.* Warmers aren’t interested in much beyond politics. Science to them is merely the club they can wield. Like anti-evolution types, they already know the answers thus aren’t inclined to look for more. Nor do they respect or understand those who do; I submit as examples the venal gibberish posted about Crichton after his death, the treatment of McIntyre, and the dismissal of our host as a mere weatherman of no particular importance.
What you will find instead is dire warnings re species extinction and other statistical data twisting that fits in the tune they already know: see page 137 in the Warmer Hymnal. All together now…

The obvious, indeed the only solution is to raise taxes.

Graeme Rodaughan

I’m sure that this effect is “unprecendented’, and since we haven’t seen it before it can’t be natural, and must be caused by man.
Just look at the Ozone hole. When that was dicovered – it was obvious that it must be man made as no one had ever seen it before…
If the magnetic poles flipped – wouldn’t that create a huge and unprecendented (in human history) catastrophy? Compasses would point in the wrong direction, it would be chaos and the end of civilisation.
I think that we all need saving from this “Magneto HOLE!” and magentic reversals and the only answer is increased taxation and the creation of an inspired, and highly effective UN Panel of committed scientists to study the problem.
There brief would be “To study the effect of man made use of electromagnetic devices impacting the Earth’s magnetic field to create catastrophic magnetic “holes” and pole reversals”.
After much study and reports, the IPER (International Panel for Electromagnetic Reversal) could recommend to governments that they institute a “CAP and TRADE” on Electromagnetic Permits. This would create a system whereby permits to use electromagnetic devices could be issued by governments and traded world wide.
Free permits could be issued to developing countries who have wisely not adopted electromagnetic technology. they could sell there permits on the world market provided they don’t adopt “Electromagnetic” technology
Developed countries who have the most electromagnetic devices would have to shoulder the greatest burden and pay for their permits.
As the cost of permits was wisely increased by the Governments, individuals and companies would be encouraged to move to “Electro Safe” mechanical devices.
Why use a car, when you could ride a bike, why use a tractor when you could use a horse and plough….
In this way the risk of man made electromagnetic pollution causing dangerous magneto holes and catastrophic pole reversals could be eliminated for all time.
Yae for the UN and governments everywhere – they should all get a Noble prize for saving us from wicked electromagnetic devices.
(Just like their saving us from CO2).
(Note: Parody).

deadwood

Was this June 2007 event an isolated occurrence? Or has it been repeated? Can it be tied to past events?
Too little info from NASA in their press release and this story to get much out of this idea, but it does sound quire fascinating.
Thanks again Anthony for a good story.

ROM

Don’t knock the guys who have found this. They appear to be open about their lack of knowledge and have just admitted straight out that they did not have a clue that a breach in the global magnetic field on this scale was possible and even existed.
Contrast this openness with the deliberate withholding of data and data processing algorithms and the apparent deliberate manipulation of data to achieve their desired outcomes by the AGW consensus mob who appear to be psychologically incapable of tolerating any criticism of their attitudes or their beliefs.
The openness of the magnetic field / solar wind scientists to the fact that a lot of their previous theories have been “overturned” is in stark contrast to the limpet like clinging of the AGW scientists to their beliefs and their climate warming ca-usual theories even though those theories are being shot to pieces almost on a daily basis.
The manner in which the magnetic field / solar wind scientists have acted to a complete overturning of a lot of their well established theories has merely reinforced the utter shallowness, coarseness and contempt for the basic tenets of science by the AGW ideologists.

Mike B

So what ??? Captain Kirk asks if this is a prelude to an invasion?

The sky is falling, but before we panic – check for acorns.

Katlab

Cool! That is really cool. I know just before the start of World War II. There was an event seen all over Northern Europe. People described it “like the fires of hell were reflected up into the sky.” People though towns were on fire. It wasn’t it was just an event that has never fully been explained. They said, it was different than an aurora. Maybe it was one of those magnetic breaches with a solar wind pouring in.
It would be interesting to go back and rethink old stories. I remember archeologists always wondered what happened to this one civilization in India. The ruins were still there partially submerged. Folklore had said, that one day, the ocean came up and swallowed it. They didn’t believe them until the tsunami hit again, and they understood.
So far that “fire in the sky” story is the only one that really stands out as a possible. Oh another might be the story of Joshua, when the sun stood still. Do you think changing the magnetic fields could briefly disrupt the rotation of the earth?

REPLY:
Disrupt rotation? Not a chance, do the math, – Anthony

Jimmy Raeder, also of New Hampshire, says “1027 particles per second were flowing into the magnetosphere—that’s a 1 followed by 27 zeros. This kind of influx is an order of magnitude greater than what we thought was possible.”

I’m surprised at the hyperbole in his comment – though finding out a “factor of ten” in in your work is an impressive fete.
By way of comparison, there are 6.02 x 10^23 “particles” (atoms) per mole of that substance. (The mole is defined as the amount of substance of a system which contains as many “elemental entities” (e.g., atoms, molecules, ions, electrons) as there are atoms in 12 g of carbon-12.)
So his 10^27 value is only a couple tens of kilograms of charged particles – and, coming directly from the sun, those particles are (almost all) hydrogen and helium ions. So, these inbound are making up for the gasses being released from the upper atmosphere (in part), and have a very, very short travel distance through the air. (An alpha particle (a charged He atom) only penetrates a few mm through the air at sea level.)

Im looking for apples

John

Anthony, “We’d do well to pay more attention to magnetic trends in our corner of the universe and what effects it has on Earthly climate. -”
You should check out the research and forecasts of Piers Corbyn, UK long range weather forcaster. He claims to have developed a “solar magnetic” technique to make long range forecasts. Not always right but they did forecast unusually early snow in the UK in November. He has some interesting ideas about how the solar activity and magnetic fields can influence weather events. http://www.weatheraction.com/

Aren’t we due for some kind of polarity reversal in the geomagnetic field sometime soon? I’m not worried as there’s no apparent correlation in the geological record of any mass extinctions, although I’m sure any such polarity reversal will be all the western nations fault for using too much electricity or some such nonsense.

Brian Johnson

Frankly from now on I am going to rely on Nostradamus……….there must be a relevant quatrain somewhere……….

First we have the interplanetary magnetic field that took an abrupt dive in October 2005 and has not recovered since and remains at very low level
I have been after Anthony before, but let me be that again. Nothing special happened in October or September 2005. Here is a graph of both the solar wind speed [red] and the interplanetary field [blue] for the last six years:
http://www.leif.org/research/Most%20Recent%20IMF,%20SW,%20and%20Solar%20Data.pdf
There has been the expected and normal decline of the IMF over those years coming down from solar maximum. At my count 18 decreases of the IMF, none of them special.
NASA comes out with these outrageous press releases to justify the money spent. Each new satellite has to find something new and breakthroughs must be made at all costs. What happens is quite simple: when the IMF points north it is pointing in the same direction as the Earth’s field at the front of the magnetosphere. When particles encounter a ‘kink’ or change of direction of the field they are deflected, but when the fields point in the same direction, the particles can proceed further before ‘realizing’ that something is wrong, hence the intrusion of solar wind plasma. This was known more than thirty years ago, see e.g. http://www.leif.org/research/suipr699.pdf page 9 [or 7 as numbered in the document]. No fundamental view of the interaction has been altered. There are, perhaps, a couple of slow and baffled learners…
Now, it is correct that magnetism is of fundamental importance in the physics of bodies in space.
REPLY: Leif and I never have argued that a decline is NOT expected and normal. What I’m concerned about is the abruptness of the step transition in Ap in October 2005. This reminds me very much of the signature of a collapsed EMF as would see from an electromagnet if I was monitoring a Hall Effect sensor withing the field and the circuit went from full current to 1/5th current. It almost appears synthetic or as an instrument error rather than a natural event, and that is most curious when it clearly is a natural event. – Anthony

Demesure

A new international treaty to protect the solar system’s magnets. Quiiiick !

Sean Houlihane

Frankly, it dismays me how many people feel compelled to make what they feel is a humorous or sarcastic comment on a thread like this. My first thought on reading the article was ‘isn’t that just a couple of kg’, so instantly I became suspicious of the quality of the existing knowledge in this area.
Yes, it’s interesting data, but please – if you have nothing to say, keep it to yourself.

I think we should ask Al Gore for an authorative statement to clear this issue once and for all.

crosspatch

“Aren’t we due for some kind of polarity reversal in the geomagnetic field sometime soon?”
Actually quite overdue. It seems the “average” period is about 250K years and it has been about 750K years since the last one. The Earth’s magnetic field has dropped something like 10% over the last 150 years or so. But while the “average” period is 250K years, it is for all practical purposes random because there have been periods of tens of millions of years without a reversal. Also because the magnetic field is currently declining doesn’t mean it will reverse. Apparently the field is quite variable so a change in strength doesn’t mean much. It would be a good guess that the field strength varies all the time even when polarity is stable.

crosspatch

Heh, I was doing a little research on magnetic reversals and happened onto the Wikipedia page on the Cretaceous period and happened to notice a graphic on the right side.
It notes that during the Cretaceous, atmospheric CO2 levels appear to have averaged about 1700ppm, or about 6 times the pre-industrial level of CO2 in the immediate pre-industrial period. It also notes that global temperatures appear to have averaged about 4C higher than today.
Now we have people telling us that if we double current CO2 to nearly 800ppm, we will end up with a rise of at least 3C in temperatures and possibly “greenhouse runaway” with temperatures continuing an unstoppable rise until we are all dead.
And here we have evidence that CO2 was not only doubled but doubled again and it resulted in only 4C of temperature rise.

Chris H

@Mister Jones
That’s assuming the polarity reversals are real, and their ‘traces’ are not caused by some other (not yet understood!) phenomena…

FatBigot (20:41:51) : “Remember, we cause not just global warming but climate change, and not just climate change but climate chaos (the new phrase rapidly being adopted by doomsayers everywhere).”
First there was Global Warming! But… it’s not getting warmer now. So next – it’s Climate Change! But… the climate changes all the time. So next – it’s Climate Chaos! But… GCMs don’t handle “chaos” very convincingly. So next – it will be Climate _____ (fill in the blank.) Which word will they start to use next, I wonder?


Katlab (22:35:05) :
Cool! That is really cool. I know just before the start of World War II. There was an event seen all over Northern Europe. People described it “like the fires of hell were reflected up into the sky.” People though towns were on fire. It wasn’t it was just an event that has never fully been explained. They said, it was different than an aurora. Maybe it was one of those magnetic breaches with a solar wind pouring in.

The fact that some people are unable to explain some things does not necessarly mean anything special is going on. Red skies are not uncommon in northern Europe in the winter time. Here is an example from my home a few of years ago.
http://arnholm.org/astro/atmosphere/clouds/clouds_20050201.jpg
You can see similer skies in the famous painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, painted not far from here. People have speculated about volcanic eruptions etc. to explain it, but in reality it happens every year.