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, damage satellites and blackout power grids. Precise predictions of such outbursts could prompt measures to cope with them, just as forecasts here on Earth warn of approaching hurricanes and thunderstorms.

Caption: Clockwise from upper left are: computer simulation of the solar wind in contact with the Earth’s magnetosphere, magnetosphere simulation experiment at Columbia University, computer visualization of turbulent plasma currents in Swarthmore plasma wind tunnel (experiment at bottom right), magnetic surfaces overlaid on merging plasma with reconnection, and spectrogram showing interaction of magnetic waves in the UCLA Large Plasma Device. Credit: M. Yamada, J. Yoo, Seth Dorfman, David Schaffner, Thomas Max Roberts, and Mike Mauel

Researchers throughout the United States are using laboratory experiments to uncover important physics behind this space weather. Their latest results will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics in New Orleans. Among their findings:

  • Experiments at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab show in detail how magnetic reconnection, an explosive phenomenon that occurs in solar flares near the sun, accelerates solar wind particles to high energy, and how the resulting solar wind interacts with the magnetic field that shields the earth.
  • Using a plasma “wind tunnel” at Swarthmore College, professor Michael Brown and post doc David Schaffner are now able to simulate the key signatures of magnetic turbulence seen in the solar wind and expected to play a role in astrophysical jets driven by exploding stars.
  • A team of scientists on the Large Plasma Device (LAPD) at UCLA has recorded laboratory observations of interactions between plasma magnetic waves. These waves are known to ripple through the turbulent solar wind where theory and satellite measurements suggest the observed interactions may help explain the behavior of the hot plasma.
  • Columbia University graduate student Thomas Roberts and his advisor, using a chamber filled with plasma and magnetic fields simulating the earth’s magnetosphere, have discovered a possible connection between ionospheric currents and local space weather near the earth.

Following are key results of five leading studies of physical processes that researchers have conducted in the laboratory to understand what happens in space, where the ability to make measurements is far more limited.

HOW MAGNETIC RECONNECTION GOES “BOOM!”

Magnetic reconnection, in which the magnetic field lines in plasma snap apart and violently reconnect, creates massive eruptions of plasma from the sun. But how reconnection transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy has been a major mystery.

Now scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have taken a key step toward solving the mystery. In research conducted on the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at PPPL, the scientists not only identified how the transformation takes place, but measured experimentally the amount of magnetic energy that turns into particle energy. This work was supported by the DOE Office of Science.

The investigation showed that reconnection in a pro-typical reconnection layer converts about 50 percent of the magnetic energy, with one-third of the conversion heating the electrons and two-thirds accelerating the ions — or atomic nuclei — in the plasma. In large bodies like the sun, such converted energy can equal the power of millions of tons of TNT.

“This is a major milestone for our research,” said Masaaki Yamada, the principal investigator for the MRX. “We can now see the entire picture of how much of the energy goes to the electrons and how much to the ions in a prototypical reconnection layer.”

Contacts:

M. Yamada myamada@pppl.gov, 609-243-2566

J. Yoo jyoo@pppl.gov, 609-243-2192

Related APS Talks:

Invited talk M. Yamada (DPP14-2014-000322)

Experimental study of energy conversion in the magnetic reconnection layer

Session BI2: Space, Astro, and Lab Astr

11:30 AM-12:00 PM, Monday, October 27, 2014

Bissonet

Energetics of the magnetic reconnection in laboratory and space plasmas, by M. Yamada Session JM10: Mini-Conference: The Magnetic Universe

2:00 PM Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Salon FGH

The talk will be presented from 4:40 PM to 5:00 PM

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MAGNETIC FIELD MAKES

Spacecraft observing magnetic reconnection have noted a fundamental gap between most theoretical studies of the phenomenon and what happens in space. While the studies assume that the converging plasmas share symmetrical characteristics such as temperature, density and magnetic strength, observations have shown that this is hardly the case.

PPPL researchers have now found the disparity in plasma density in experiments conducted on the MRX. The work, done in collaboration with the Space Science Center at the University of New Hampshire, marks the first laboratory confirmation of the disparity and deepens understanding of the mechanisms involved.

The research replicated at small scale the convergence of the plasma in solar wind and the plasma-filled magnetosphere, or magnetic field that surrounds the Earth. Before convergence, the density of the solar wind-like plasma was found to be from 10 times to 100 times greater than the density of the plasma that represented the magnetosphere.

Data from the MRX findings could help to inform a four-satellite mission — the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS — that NASA plans to launch next year to study reconnection in the magnetosphere. The probes could produce a better understanding of geomagnetic storms and lead to advanced warning of the disturbances and an improved ability to cope with them.

Contact:

J. Yoo jyoo@pppl.gov, 609-243-2192

Abstract:

PP8.00106: Studies of electron energization during magnetic reconnection in a laboratory plasma

Session PP8: Poster Session VI: MST and Other Reversed Field Pinches;

NSTX and Other Spherical Tori; Magnetic Reconnection

2:00 PM–5:00 PM, Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Preservation Hall

BRINGING WAVES IN SPACE PLASMAS DOWN TO EARTH

To make forecasts of space weather a reality, scientists must first understand the plasma processes that occur on the sun’s surface and between the Earth and the sun. In particular, understanding the interaction between waves that course through the plasma may play a key role in explaining how the overall sun-Earth system behaves.

Scientists at the Large Plasma Device (LAPD) at UCLA have made the first laboratory observations of two potentially important wave-wave interaction processes. Both involve the most fundamental wave that exists in a plasma with a magnetic field. These waves, known as Alfvén waves, can be thought of as if the magnetic field were plucked like a string. The new LAPD observations enhance our understanding of fundamental physical processes that may play a key role in explaining how plasma behaves in space.

The wave-wave interactions observed have been predicted by theory and suggested by satellite observation, but have never before been seen in the laboratory.

UCLA scientists contributing to this work include: Seth Dorfman, Troy Carter, Stephen Vincena, Patrick Pribyl, Danny Guice, and Giovanni Rossi. Collaborators from other institutions include: Richard Sydora at University of Alberta, Yu Lin at Auburn University, and Kristopher Klein at University of New Hampshire.

Contact:

Seth Dorfman, sethd@physics.ucla.edu

Abstract:

DI2.00002 Laboratory Studies of Nonlinear Interactions Relevant to Alfvén Wave Decay Instabilities

3:30 PM–4:00 PM, Monday, October 27, 2014

Bissonet

CAPTURING A PIECE OF THE SOLAR WIND

The turbulence in solar wind twists and tangles magnetic field lines and can give rise to magnetic reconnection and stormy space weather. At Swarthmore College, the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment (SSX) serves as the world’s first plasma wind tunnel and recreates conditions similar to those found in the solar wind.

Research conducted under Prof. Michael Brown creates one-million-degree plasmas that sweep through the SSX at more than 60 miles per second. Working with post-doctoral fellow David Schaffner, the scientists have explored the mysteries of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) — or magnetic fluid — turbulence. Their findings have enhanced understanding of the solar wind turbulence that can affect satellites and influence the environment of space near the Earth.

Combining all the measures of turbulence that the laboratory has developed could lead to a framework that captures the characteristics of all plasma turbulence — whether in fusion devices, laboratory MHD plasmas or the plasmas in outer space.

Contact:

David Schaffner, dschaff2@swarthmore.edu

Abstracts

PT2.00001: Magnetohydrodynamic Turbulence: Observation and Experiment

2:00 PM–2:30 PM, Wednesday, October 29

Bissonet

Session PT2: Tutorial: Magnetohydrodynamic Turbulence: Observation and Experiment

2:00 PM–2:30 PM, Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bissonet

TP8.00067 : MHD turbulence analyses in the plasma wind-tunnel of the Swarthmore

Spheromak Experiment

9:30 AM–9:30 AM, Thursday, October 30, 2014

Preservation Hall

Session TP8: Poster Session VII: C-MOD TOKAMAK; Divertors; Boundary/Edge

Physics; Heating and Drive; Turbulence, Transport and Astrophysical Plasmas

9:30 AM–9:30 AM, Thursday, October 30, 2014

Preservation Hall

JP8.00017 : Permutation entropy analysis of dynamical turbulence in the SSX MHD wind tunnel and the solar wind

2:00 PM–2:00 PM, Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Preservation Hall

Session JP8: Poster Session IV: Education and Outreach; Undergraduate/High School Research; Fundamental Theory and Computation; Magnetic ICF & HEDP; Z-Pinch, X- Pinch, Exploding Wire Plasma and Dense Plasma Focus

2:00 PM–2:00 PM, Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Preservation Hall

TAMING TURBULENT SPACE WEATHER IN A LABORATORY MAGNETOSPHERE

Like the lighting that bolts from storms clouds, powerful currents flow toward Earth from the motion of plasma that takes place inside the magnetosphere. Now students and scientists at Columbia University have conducted the first controlled experiments that regulate currents extracted from a fast-moving laboratory plasma contained by a magnetic field shaped like the field in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

This research gives students a new tool to test space-weather models, and provides clues to controlling the turbulence that causes heat and particles to escape from magnetic confinement in fusion facilities.

To reduce turbulence in the laboratory plasma, the students used an electrode to extract current from the plasma. Reversing the process by injecting current amplified the turbulence.

The experiments paralleled the process that takes place in space when the current that flows from magnetospheric plasma through the Earth’s ionosphere slows the motion of space plasma. Adjusting the current thus acts like turning a knob to regulate the turbulence — a finding that could enhance the performance of future fusion facilities.

Contact:

Thomas Max Roberts, tmr2122@columbia.edu

Mike Mauel, 212-854-4455, mauel@columbia.edu

Abstract:

Invited Presentation N12.00001

Author: Thomas Max Roberts

Title: “Local Regulation of Interchange Turbulence in a Dipole-Confined Plasma Torus using Current-Collection Feedback

9:30 AM-10:00 AM, Wednesday, Oct. 29

Bissonet

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113 thoughts on “Insights into the physics of space weather that disrupts cell phones and creates Earthly havoc

  1. So, given that geomagnetic storms can induce enough current in electrical lines to blow circuit breakers in the power grids,
    => just how much energy does the earth receive, in total, from the magnetic coupling/storming and particle bombardment from the sun, especially during the solar cycle max but also during the rest of the solar cycle?
    My preliminary searching indicates it is simple: we don’t have a clue.
    Enough UV to expand the atmosphere to increase drag on satellites,
    X-Rays stopped in the upper atmosphere,
    some high energy particles reaching the surface, etc

    • Lots of clues going back in time we do have, due to the diligence of some tenured Docs in the hood..
      Recent Progress in Long-Term Variability of Solar Activity
      http://www.leif.org/research/Keynote-SCOSTEP-2014.pdf
      Page 14
      IHV is a Measure of Power Input [in GW] to the Ionosphere (Measured by POES)
      IHV is directly proportional to the power input (Hp) to the upper atmosphere
      Check it out, Dr. S. is really good at this stuff..

      • Good Point. In my research I used an energetic neutral beam ( neutral overall as electrons were bled into the ion beam to neutralise it.) to sputter material from both silicon and titanium targets. The material so sputtered when combined with some oxygen bled into the chamber, was sufficiently energetic to create some very hard and smooth optical coatings on the substrate.
        This sounds like a very exciting area of research, esepcially as the above indicates the plasma can be very energetic. Energy does interesting stuff!

      • Dr. Paul Mackey October 29, 2014 at 1:03 am:
        Did you work on semiconductor process tools, called sputtering equipment? This technology is also how today’s RTDs are manufactured. They used to be much larger and much more costly platinum coils!

  2. Gee, fancy all those teensy little bar magnets explosively disconnecting and reconnecting without a hint of an electric current anywhere (because everyone knows that there’s no such thing as electricity in space).

    • It probably has. But a few million tons is much, much smaller than an earthly trace gas. So it’s effect can’t be measured.
      Or maybe it can. Summoning Lief! ☺

      • The Sun is just so big that losing 8 millions tons per second [4 because of fusion and 4 because of solar wind] only amounts to one thousandth of the solar mas over the life time of the sun so far.

      • Wouldn’t a bunch of stuff like gas, dust, rocks and comets be falling into the sun as well, offsetting some of the loss?

      • It’s estimated by various sources that between 30 and 80 thousand tons of dust and other matter are swept up by the earth each year. Of course while it’s pretty clear the earth acquires some amount of mass each year, the total acquired even over geological time is a very small fraction of the planet’s mass. The sun should acquire a proportionately larger, but still trivial amount.

      • Dr. Svaalgard or someone better versed can give you the difference, but probably the sun’s mass change is a net loss.

  3. and can whip up geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell phone service
    I don’t comment on many posts here because most are not in areas of expertise but I know about radios and this is nonsense. Geomagnetic storms can disrupt short-wave radio propagation but not short distance UHF radios. If they could do that then your home Wi-Fi network would stop working during the next storm.
    That giant sunspot group was mostly beneficial for shortwave radio propagation over the weekend. There was a big amateur radio DX contest and propagation was the best I had seen since the last solar cycle. About the only bad effect from that sunspot group was a temporary radio blackout that accompanied the X4 flare on Friday.

    • The CDMA based cellphone service of Verizon, Sprint requires/uses GPS timing at the tower base stations to maintain sub-10 usec accuracy for synchronization. GPS signals can be disrupted for short periods by ionospheric disturbances from powerful X+ class flares. See:
      http://phys.org/news/2013-05-solar-flares-disrupt-gps.html
      Thus a GPS outage CAN disrupt terrestrial cell phones indirectly because of a dependency on a satellite link.

      • Your link was not helpful. It didn’t tell me anything so I did a little research. It appears that cell sites need to be carefully synched so that they can determine if a signal is coming from one cell phone or multiple phones when a signal is received by overlapping sites. You certainly don’t want one call to be going out over multiple transmitters. To maintain tight synchronization cell sites use clocks that are synched to GPS.
        The time is corrected periodically to make sure all sites are within some specification. Between re-synchs the sites are subject to something called Holdover Synchronization.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holdover_in_synchronization_applications
        IOW the sites have to be able to maintain precise timing on their own between re-synchs. I was able to find this document that mentioned holder time drift in 24 hours for TCXO based and Rubidium atomic clocks.
        https://www.aventasinc.com/whitepapers/WP_EnsureMobileServiceRBHoldover.pdf
        It appears that 24 hours is reasonable amount of time operation could continue without GPS re-synch. Even if the time synch was out of spec, the cell site wouldn’t go down but begin to experience operational degradation.
        I have never heard of a solar flare disrupting the frequencies that GPS operates on but assuming it could, doing so for more than 24 hours is so remote that it’s essentially impossible.
        Including disruption of cell phone operation in the headline about solar flares is alarmism at its worst.

      • I would be surprised if most cell base stations in Verizon’s and Sprint’s LTE and CDMA networks use anything but less expensive crystal oscillator clocks. Rubidium clocks are expensive. To put one in every base cell tower box would be expensive.
        A big solar flare could easily knock GPS service out for several hours. Would that be enough to cause problems on those cell networks. I’m betting the phone companies don’t want to find out, since they likely went with cheaper clocks.

  4. Appreciate the post and the efforts of all researchers involved here. However…
    The electric and magnetic fields that compose the electron orbitsphere make it mandatory that the Universe is both Magnetic and Electric simultaneously, ultimately Electromagnetic – based on the physics of charge-in-motion: electrodynamics and magnetohydrodynamics.
    One thing scientists ought to do is examine how the phrase “magnetic field lines” comes across. Everyone knows there are no such things as “field lines” that exist independently – magnetic or otherwise. How does a charged particle follow an imaginary field line? It doesn’t. It CREATES the field(s) [and ‘lines’] by its motion and the amount of fundamental charge it carries.
    That means magnetic field lines are TRAJECTORIES of electrons, protons, and heavier ions. The Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF) is the superposition of all charged particles within the Heliosphere, from the solar wind, from accelerated ions and electrons off planetary magnetospheres, and from cosmic sources outside the Heliosphere.
    The post mentions “currents” without mentioning currents of “what”. Those flows of electrons and protons create an ELECTRIC current in the IMF, and in the magnetosphere, and then into the ionosphere, where it creates an electric field. See http://how.gi.alaska.edu/ao/msp/chapters/chapter10.pdf for a good technical expose on Magnetosphere Ionosphere Coupling and Substorms.
    From the post: “But how reconnection transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy has been a major mystery.”
    – They admit “(MAGNETIC) RECONNECTION IS A MYSTERY”
    “The investigation showed that reconnection in a pro-typical reconnection layer converts about 50 percent of the magnetic energy, with one-third of the conversion heating the electrons and two-thirds accelerating the ions — or atomic nuclei — in the plasma.”
    – 2/3 of the energy goes towards particle acceleration. What happens when like charges meet? Do they not repel? At least some of what are called magnetic reconnection events here are technically magnetic “repulsion” events and should be called that.
    From the post: “TAMING TURBULENT SPACE WEATHER IN A LABORATORY MAGNETOSPHERE
    Like the lighting that bolts from storms clouds, powerful currents flow toward Earth from the motion of plasma that takes place inside the magnetosphere. Now students and scientists at Columbia University have conducted the first controlled experiments that regulate currents extracted from a fast-moving laboratory plasma contained by a magnetic field shaped like the field in the Earth’s magnetosphere.
    This research gives students a new tool to test space-weather models, and provides clues to controlling the turbulence that causes heat and particles to escape from magnetic confinement in fusion facilities.
    To reduce turbulence in the laboratory plasma, the students used an electrode to extract current from the plasma. Reversing the process by injecting current amplified the turbulence.
    The experiments paralleled the process that takes place in space when the current that flows from magnetospheric plasma through the Earth’s ionosphere slows the motion of space plasma. Adjusting the current thus acts like turning a knob to regulate the turbulence — a finding that could enhance the performance of future fusion facilities.”
    I counted five instances of the use of the word “current” without a qualifier in that quote. Those are ELECTRIC currents.
    Otherwise love this stuff. Can’t wait to read the papers. Without the solar wind and magnetotail action, would we see any auroras here on Earth?

    • The post mentions “currents” without mentioning currents of “what”. Those flows of electrons and protons create an ELECTRIC current in the IMF, and in the magnetosphere, and then into the ionosphere, where it creates an electric field
      No, Bob [and others], you have this backwards. The solar wind is not an electric current, but a neutral conductor [like a piece of copper wire]. When the wind hits the [almost] stationary magnetic field of the Earth, and electric field is created locally near the Earth by induction [Faraday’s Law]. This field then drives local electric currents in the magnetosphere and ionosphere.

      • Kindly sir, respectfully, why don’t you go and inform all the writers of all the papers published in peer-reviewed journals that explicitly discuss electric currents in space, whether it be in the solar corona, the heliosphere, or the cosmos, and implore upon them that they must conform to your viewpoint so the rest of us who read such papers can be “properly” informed, according to your POV.

      • Bob Weber October 29, 2014 at 7:08 am
        Kindly sir, respectfully, why don’t you go and inform all the writers of all the papers published in peer-reviewed journals that explicitly discuss electric currents in space
        No need to, as all scientists know that almost anything of interest is due to electric currents. The point is that those currents are generated [by Faraday’s Law] locally by conductors [plasma] moving across magnetic fields, such as described in section 1 of http://www.leif.org/research/suipr699.pdf

    • And how do you think a magnetic field is created ? In the Vacrupter Switch Failure there is a current flowing through a neutral conductor .

      • The Earth’s magnetic field [and the Sun’s] is created by a conductor moving across an existing magnetic field creating a current which in turn amplifies the existing magnetic field [a dynamo]. The current in the switch failure was generated at a power station somewhere by this very process.

      • Are we not always electrically connected to the sun?Isn’t the existence of a local magnetic field only possible in an electric field ? No electric current no magnetic field. So normally the local electric field is in dark mode until the current density gets high enough to change to glow mode (Auroral Oval)

      • No, we are not electrically connected to the Sun. We are magnetically connected.
        Isn’t the existence of a local magnetic field only possible in an electric field
        In my living room there is a good magnetic field [that draws a compass needle towards north], but there is no electric field in my living room that generates that magnetic field. The magnetic field is generated in the core of the Eartk thousands of miles below my feet by the dynamo process I mentioned.

      • The origin of magnetic fields in the universe is a very important unsolved problems in cosmology
        Ludwig Biermann proposed a mechanism “The Biermann Battery Process” by which a weak seed magnetic field can be generated from ZERO initial conditions by the relative motion between electrons and ions.
        But
        in a plasma j ≈ 0
        it is NOT 0
        NASA Goddard presentation by Dr. Donald E. Scott on plasma cosmology
        http://youtu.be/t8tqgntbjyE

      • I am a total nitwit in this , but I was under the impression that our magnetic field was partly induced by the rotation of the earth and earth’s core and the core’s composition (Iron?) had something to do with that as well, Also our lack of knowledge and the reluctance to co-operate with each other within the closely related science fields on this subject is still to me our biggest obstacle. ( The Noble price is not what it used to be but I guess funding is now the main objective, sadly)

  5. Chuck (October 28, 2014 at 8:13 pm) is correct. The claim that “space weather” disrupts cell phones is utter nonsense. Cell phones work on 800-900 MHz and 1800-2000 MHz. These frequencies are LOS only and not affected by the ionosphere.
    Climate “scientists” are not the only ones who talk rubbish from time to time.

    • wrong. CDMA based service (Verizon and Sprint) use GPS timing at the tower base stations to maintain synchronization. Disrupt GPS at those terrestrial locations, and those cell nets go down.

      • GPS does not depend on reflection of signal from the ionosphere. GPS always penetrates the ionosphere. I’ve never ever failed to get a GPS signal. I doubt that the FAA would permit GPS letdowns if there was any chance of disruption of signal due to “space weather”.

      • Maybe all those CDMA networks above lattitude +/- 80 degrees get disrupted, I dunno never used them.

      • I do not think the cell networks ‘go down’, they become less efficient. The loss of packets starts to increase under various circumstances including reflections and reception at multiple towers. The noticeable effect would be a drop in packet efficiency as clocks got out of synch when you are received by multiple towers.
        Believe it or not, there are smart engineers involved in design cell systems who already thought of a couple of things of which others might not be aware. Cell systems collect and forward to the NSA (or its equivalent in each country) a record of the physical position of all active phones with a precision of a few metres. The accuracy of the position will degrade with timing errors. If you are only hitting one tower you might notice no degradation of your call or data service.

  6. Also, when a propagation ‘lift’ occurs, VHF and UHF stations have a greatly increased range, so that our carefully implemented set of mobile base stations, sharing channels and frequencies, can suddenly interfere with each other.
    Here on the south coast of the UK, whenever a ‘summer high pressure area’ resides over the English channel, the extra distance the UHF TV signals travel can wipe out our TV reception.

    • steverichards1984 October 29, 2014 at 1:51 am
      Here on the south coast of the UK, whenever a ‘summer high pressure area’ resides over the English channel, the extra distance the UHF TV signals travel can wipe out our TV reception.

      If the effect depends on an anticyclone (‘summer high pressure area’) then it will be due to atmospheric ducting not “space weather”.

    • Good find Vuk. The title of that is “Cluster electric current density measurements within a magnetic flux rope in the plasma sheet” and it was written by fourteen authors.
      That gives Dr. S 14 people to target as a start on his personal vendetta against ELECTRIC CURRENTS in SPACE.
      They wouldn’t be interested in measuring electric current density in space if there weren’t any electric currents in space.

  7. Again, someone missing the obvious, earth depends on space whether. If the sun is not hot, you are not either. One of the lab types has to take a vacation, and lie on a beach, preferably not at the south pole, and check that out. Maybe ionized radiation, pulls a long the heat, and fields are the result of ionized radiation, or visa/versa, afield of spontaneous generation without the usual ionized particle. But, I’m still here looking for the spontaneous field to generate,
    PS: looking for funds to find a warm beach also…

  8. Meanwhile all the funding is being spent on proving the link between human CO2 emissions and the rising global temperature. This obviously requires lots of cash since with rising CO2 and flat temperature it has become quite a challenge.

    • Reconnection is ubiquitous throughout the Universe. As your link points out: “Two flows of plasma with anti-parallel magnetic fields are pushed together, flowing in from above and below, and create a thin current sheet.” A good illustration of how local electric currents are generated [Bob Weber take notice].

      • Yes… I understand…. My concern is effect this phenomenon on earth (not the sun) has on earth’s magnetosphere. It can allow the solar wind to achieve a direct hit on earth…..charge us up like an energizer…. It most often happens during periods of high solar activity.

      • It has a large effect on the Earth’s magnetosphere, responsible for geomagnetic storms, aurorae, and dangerous induced currents that can damage the electric grid.

  9. Dr. S, accusing someone of being a slow learner again, eh? Is that all you got?
    Obviously, there are electric currents in space.

    • Of course there are currents as I have shown repeatedly. Those currents are created locally by plasma in changing magnetic fields, e.g. by reconnection. The slow learner bit comes from your demonstrated inability to learn this in spite of repeated emphasis on this fact.

      • A good introduction to the problem is here http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8454.pdf written by the “Father of the Solar Wind”, Gene Parker.
        “So one way or another, there is no significant persistent large-scale electric field in a plasma (collisionless or collision dominated). One might say that a plasma abhors electric fields and invariably finds a means to
        avoid them. Only by reducing the degree of ionization of a gas to negligible values, e.g., the lower terrestrial atmosphere where we reside, is there a possibility for interesting large-scale electric field effects.”

  10. We agree that there are electric currents in space. That’s the point, not your impression of what you think I understand.

    • It is important that you understand that there are no persistent large-scale electric fields [and current] in a plasma, and that all the electric currents in space are generated by plasma flows in a magnetic field. Read Parker’s chapter to see why. If you do not understand this then you are not on the right track.

  11. I appreciate you link to Parker’s paper. However we are not talking today about “persistent large-scale electric field[s] in a plasma”.

    • You said: “The post mentions “currents” without mentioning currents of “what”. Those flows of electrons and protons create an ELECTRIC current in the IMF, and in the magnetosphere, and then into the ionosphere, where it creates an electric field.”
      I pointed out that it is the other way around: the electric field is generated by the neutral plasma crossing the magnetic field of the Earth. There is no electric field in the free-flowing plasma. As long as you understand and acknowledge this fundamental point you’ll be fine.

  12. A. Smith asks:
    What about earth’s magnetic reconnection phenomenon?
    Experts have this strange idea if you put two magnets close enough you can get a short circuit, may be, but however hard I tried I couldn’t do it.
    Many times I’ve seen lightning ‘sparks’, even pulling synthetic cardigan over my hair does it, and as a practical engineer I have accidentally caused a few by short-circuiting electric currents myself. None of these required an auspicious presence of magnetic field, or at least I was not aware of it, just electric charge i.e. electric potential difference.
    Here is an animation of the ‘magnetic’ reconnection
    http://www.igpp.ucla.edu/public/THEMIS/SCI/Pubs/Nuggets/reconnection/262351main_reconnect.mpg

  13. “Experts have this strange idea if you put two magnets close enough you can get a short circuit, may be, but however hard I tried I couldn’t do it.”
    That you can’t do it or don’t understand it does not mean anything. Magnetic reconnection is a well-studied phenomenon in the laboratory [e.g. http://www.leif.org/EOS/yamada10rmp.pdf ] and well-observed now in the magnetosphere [this topic].

  14. lsvalgaard says
    October 29, 2014 at 1:13 am
    “The Earth’s magnetic field [and the Sun’s] is created by a conductor moving across an existing magnetic field creating a current which in turn amplifies the existing magnetic field [a dynamo].”
    Leif, This doesn’t sound right.. It never did sound correct to me.
    Where did the existing magnetic field come from? from the core by way of E=mc2? if so, the polar field is the source of the dynamo and not the result of the dynamo.
    How is an “existing” polar field produced by the dynamo itself from the outside in when the “existing” polar field is produced from the inside out?

      • In the paper you referenced to on the “Biermann Battery Effect” it even states in the abstract;
        “We also find that this result is insensitive to various physical parameters including the mass of the source star, distance between the source and the dense clump, unless we take unlikely values of these parameters.”
        So this is a theoretical modeling paper that you are using as evidence/support of a Dynamo that produces a polar field on a star from the outside-in, even tho, it states that the model is “insensitive to physical parameters” including the Mass of the source star or [E=mc2] etc…
        I agree that the Biermann Battery Effect can theoretically generate a magnetic field from ‘nothing’ but gas dynamics, tho it is clearly weaker than the field produced by the stars mass and which the Biermann Battery Effect does not produce, the polar field is produced by the stars mass.

      • No, the Biermann Battery Effect only created the first magnetic fields eons ago. Today those fields are still around and pervade the Universe. When the Sun and the Earth were formed they include some of that field, greatly magnified billions of times by the contraction of the interstellar gas cloud from which the solar system was formed. Ever since, that field have been amplified further by the dynamo, then dispersed again, then amplified again, etc, in a never-ending cycle.
        Now, the BB-effect may not be the only mechanism that can produce seed fields, but its importance lies in the fact that it showed that such production was possible.

  15. have not read all the literature links (thanks anyway)…
    in my hood (bordering a local hail belt and with rather spectacular thunderstorms due to local geography), my loss of comms has nothing to do with the sun (and other esoteric sources), the locality rules supreme!

  16. In an extensive article on the Magnetic Fields in the Early Universe
    http://cds.cern.ch/record/457096/files/0009061.pdf
    on page 16 is stated:
    “Several alternative astrophysical mechanisms have been proposed like the generation of the fields by a
    Biermann battery [20] (see also Ref.[1]). It has been suggested that the Biermann battery may produce seed fields which are successively amplified on galactic scale by a dynamo powered by the turbulence in the protogalactic cloud [14, 21]. This mechanism, however, can hardly account for the magnetic fields observed in the
    galaxy clusters.

    • As the article discusses there are other mechanisms that might help. The main point is that the magnetic field essentially lives forever and may be a survivor from the birth of our universe.
      The essential feature is the prime importance and permanence of magnetic fields as compared to the fleeting and transitory appearance of electric currents which simply results from plasma motions interacting with the magnetic field.

      • Electric current can be easily and readily created by mechanical (friction), atmospheric (lightning) or chemical (battery) etc, means none of which require presence of any magnetic field. To the contrary magnetic field can only be generated by presence of a moving electric charge.
        Even naturally occurring permanent magnets are explained by atoms having electrons orbiting the nucleus with a spin whereby these movements give rise to magnetic field.

      • All of these are transitory and play no role in large-scale, fundamental processes. Your picture of permanent magnets is too naive. The electron orbitals are not electric currents. Try to learn from the papers you link to. Read the cern paper again.

      • As Parker points out [Conversations…] your experience is tainted by living in a non-conducting medium:
        The essential feature for the production and existence of magnetic field is the high electrical conductivity, i.e., the inability to support an electric field in the moving frame of reference of plasma or liquid planetary interior . This is all so foreign to the situation in the lower terrestrial atmosphere where we reside, the air being an excellent electrical insulator. Here we see none of the magnetic effects, the atmospheric winds blowing freely through the geomagnetic field. Instead, we see such powerful electrostatic phenomena as lightning, driven by potential differences of millions of volts. The tropical thunderstorms charge Earth to some 350,000 V negative with respect to the ionosphere and the space beyond. So there is a downward directed electric field of the order of 1 V/cm here in the lower atmosphere, diminishing upward to the ionosphere at about 100 km alti­tude. The high density and low temperature of the atmosphere create this
        unique situation. Indeed, it would appear that the formation of life is possible only in such a situation of low temperature and, hence, negligible electrical conductivity. So, living things can discover the general magnetic character of the cosmos only by remote observation. Only in the physics laboratory can the magnetic plasma conditions be duplicated to some degree.”

      • Right now would be a very good time for you to precisely define in your own words what EXACTLY is a “magnetic field” and an “electric field” fundamentally. What are they composed of? Further, what materials constitute the geomagnetic field? When it varies, what is varying? Please don’t make circular arguments that start back with a “field”. What exactly makes up the Earth’s electric and magnetic “fields”? What “things” would you claim to be out there that vary the electric and magnetic “fields”? In other words, what are these fields made from? What is up there in the ionosphere that creates the 300KV potential to ground (the electric field)? What is it in the solar wind that varies?
        I’ve already alluded to my answers to these questions. Your turn.

      • I could do this, but any good textbook will do a better job than one can do here with the limited space [and time] provided by a blog. Here it should suffice that magnetic and electric fields are not ‘made’ of ‘something’ material. The geomagnetic field at the surface and extending into space derives from a dynamo operating in the core thousands of miles below our feet. The magnetic field in the solar wind derives from a dynamo operating within the sun.
        Of relevance to the topic are the field in a plasma. The link to Parker’s Conversations that I gave upstream contains a good explanation on a medium level of accessibility.
        The ‘fair weather’ electric field is due mainly to thunderstorms.
        The solar wind consists of [mainly] a neutral mix of protons and electrons carrying a ‘frozen-in’ magnetic field. The density, pressure, and field strength all vary on many timescales.

  17. I’m sure the whole world’s community of solar physicists and cosmologists are all studying these phenomena. America doesn’t save the world on its own you know……

  18. lsvalgaard October 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm
    The electron orbitals are not electric currents.
    Cherry picking. It was said:
    “electrons orbiting the nucleus with a spin”
    As you well know but prefer not to mention it is the spin that gives an electron its magnetic momentum!
    Magnetism is an effect and as such it is transitory. Electrons and protons, charged particles, the substance of the earliest universe have been around ever since, a sure sign of their permanence.
    To generate or observe magnetic effect PRESENCE of CHARGED PARTICLES is required; without charged particles magnetism can not be generated, without charged particles magnetism can not be observed. Electric charges are both the mother and the father of any and all magnetism.

      • At my university, some decades ago it was known in my native language as ‘magnetic momentum’, so I used it as such, but if caused an ambiguity ‘magnetic moment’ is just fine.
        Eugene N. Parker is a astrophysicist. Anyone who has never trained as an electric or electronic engineer and spent working life dealing with electric currents could be forgiven for being mixed up about electric currents and magnetism.
        James Clerk Maxwell should be your reference (at my uni was a 2 year course).
        Maxwell is all about dynamics, astrophysicists talk about frozen magnetism, there is no such thing.

      • Anyone who has never trained as an electric or electronic engineer and spent working life dealing with electric currents could be forgiven for being mixed up about electric currents and magnetism.
        I understand your confusion. You are also confused about charge and current. Every breadth you take contains something like 10^25 charged particles, but [hopefully] no electric currents.
        Parker said it best:
        “we are interested here in the electro­magnetism of the cosmos—the large-scale magnetic fields that are trans­ported bodily in the swirling ionized gases (plasmas) of planetary magnetospheres, stars, and galaxies, and, indeed, throughout intergalactic space. The plasma and the magnetic fields appear to be everywhere through­out the universe. The essential feature is that no significant electric field can arise in the frame of reference of the moving plasma. Hence, the large-scale dynamics of the magnetic field is tied to the hydrodynamics (HD) of the swirling plasma in the manner described by theoretical magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). So we shall have a fresh look at the theoretical foundations of both HD and MHD. The conventional derivations of the basic equations of HD and MHD are correct, of course, but the derivations ignore some fun­damental questions, allowing a variety of misconceptions to flourish in the
        scientific community. We work out a minimal physical derivation, laying bare the simplicity of the necessary and sufficient conditions for the validity of HD and MHD to describe the large-scale bulk motion of plasmas and their magnetic fields. The essential condition for HD is that there be enough particles to give a statistically precise definition of the local plasma density; the essential condition for MHD is that there be enough free electrons and ions that the plasma cannot support any significant electric field in its own
        moving frame of reference. Both of these requirements are satisfied almost everywhere throughout the cosmos, with the result that HD and MHD accu­rately describe the large-scale bulk dynamics of the plasmas and fields. The magnetic field is transported bodily with the bulk motion of the plasma, and the dynamics is basically the mechanical interaction between the stresses in the magnetic field B and the pressure and bulk momentum density of the plasma velocity. The associated electric current j and the electric field E in the laboratory frame of reference play no direct role in the dynamics. They are created and driven by the varying B and v. If needed for some purpose, they are readily computed once the dynamics has provided B and v.”

      • They are created and driven by the varying B and v.
        So called ‘frozen-in’ magnetic field would have a constant B, and not varying B !
        I here by abandon you and your magnetic freezer.

      • Your attempt to flaunt your ignorance falls, as usual, a bit flat, although it is good you stop wasting our time anymore.
        Since the magnetic field is frozen into the plasma, it follows the plasma, so, if the plasma is compressed [e.g. by high-speed plasma plowing into slower plasma ahead of it] the field will be compressed too and B will increase accordingly. For the unwashed masses the frozen-in field may perhaps best be grasped by considering the spiral magnetic field lines in the radially expanding plasma, e.g.
        http://www.keelynet.com/spider/magfield.gif

      • ” For the unwashed masses the frozen-in field may perhaps best be grasped by considering the spiral magnetic field lines in the radially expanding plasma, e.g.”
        Leif, as being one of the unwashed, can you help me understand the frozen in magnetic field in plasma? How can magnetic field be “frozen in” into plasma?
        For a permanent magnet the understanding is that the individual atoms are aligned. Plasma does not have atoms but charged particles. How are these keeping “frozen in” magnetic field? Do these run in circles? Or do these spin? Is the “frozen in” understood as created by spinning charged particles?
        What does keep the particles aligned to spin all the time the same way inside the plasma flows?
        Was it possible to simulate in laboratory a frozen in magnetic field in plasma, and how long was it frozen?

      • Lars, it is sometimes difficult to give a hand waving explanation. Here is a more rigorous one:
        http://solarphysics.livingreviews.org/open?pubNo=lrsp-2005-7&page=articlesu2.html
        Perhaps it is enough to point out that the frozen-in field lines are an observed reality, e.g. the field in the solar wind have a spiral shape.
        It is important to note that in certain circumstances the frozen-in condition can be broken and interesting things [such as dissipative electric currents – ‘explosions’] can happen.

      • “so, if the plasma is compressed [e.g. by high-speed plasma plowing into slower plasma ahead of it] the field will be compressed too and B will increase accordingly. ”
        “The solar wind is a hot and fast flow of magnetized gas that streams away from the sun’s upper atmosphere. It is made of hydrogen and helium ions with a sprinkling of heavier elements. Researchers liken it to the steam from a pot of water boiling on a stove; the sun is literally boiling itself away.
        “But,” says Adam Szabo of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, “solar wind does something that steam in your kitchen never does. As steam rises from a pot, it slows and cools. As solar wind leaves the sun, it accelerates, tripling in speed as it passes through the corona. Furthermore, something inside the solar wind continues to add heat even as it blows into the cold of space.””
        http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/08mar_solarwind/
        Isn’t acceleration a form of freefall ? Doesn’t freefall stop the moment you plow into something ?

      • As solar wind leaves the sun, it accelerates, tripling in speed as it passes through the corona.
        The speeding up is [counter intuitively] due to gravity. Gravity usually hold something back when you throw it up, but because gravity decreases with height that restriction is gradually relaxed and the speed increases. The effect is the same as in a deLaval rocket nozzle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Laval_nozzle

  19. Leif Svalgaard
    October 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm
    “No, the Biermann Battery Effect only created the first magnetic fields eons ago….”
    “Now, the BB-effect may not be the only mechanism that can produce seed fields, but its importance lies in the fact that it showed that such production was possible.”
    So when you use this “BB-effect” (big bang-effect) to make your point, you are using an unproven theory about eons ago to support your view, yet you immediately say “No” when I use a proven theory to make my point, even tho you appear to agree!
    I’ll remind you again, the mass of a star produces its polar field by way of E=mc2.
    I suppose the only way you can change this fact is by changing the theoretical properties of the early universe. Nice try Leif.

    • As usual, I have no idea what you are talking about. By Bb-effect I obviously meant the Biermann-Battery effect. Your E-nc2 bit is plain nonsense. And the Big-Bang is very well supported by evidence [but irrelevant to the topic].

      • You know very well my “big bang effect” is humor directed at your unfalsifiable belief that magnetic fields are remnants left over from the big bang. “the Biermann Battery Effect only created the first magnetic fields eons ago….”

      • Leif: Serous question re the big bang which I have factiously said was actually a very tiny bang.
        What do the cosmologists believe was the order of magnitude of the total energy involved in the big bang’ or is that even a meaningful concept at a near point singularity ?
        Is the total energy in the present universe, just what “appeared” at the BB instant, or is that also a meaningless concept ?
        I guess Hawking is disturbed by the notion of a point singularity. Not happy about it myself.

      • Sparks: unfalsifiable
        No, this is very falsifiable. See http://www.leif.org/EOS/0009061-Cosmic-Magnetic-Fields.pdf
        “We argue that the most promising way to test this hypothesis is to look for possible imprints of magnetic fields on the temperature and polarization anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR). ”
        george: Is the total energy in the present universe, just what “appeared” at the BB instant,
        The total energy in the universe is and has always been exactly zero.

    • Yep, that constant heating element, how do you dump all that heat ?
      Maybe that should be the question ?

  20. “””””…..This research gives students a new tool to test space-weather models, and provides clues to controlling the turbulence that causes heat and particles to escape from magnetic confinement in fusion facilities.
    To reduce turbulence in the laboratory plasma, the students used an electrode to extract current from the plasma. Reversing the process by injecting current amplified the turbulence……”””””
    So what material will they use for their turbulence stabilizing probe, in a fusion reactor with the plasma at hundreds of millions of degrees ??
    Just asking.

  21. lsvalgaard
    October 31, 2014 at 11:24 pm
    I cant even repeat the actual quote for fear of being struck by lightening by Leif.
    What you are suggesting to me is to believe in your version of ‘god and entertain your fantasy. I will decline the offer.. I don’t believe in your BS about the universe. It’s your problem dude deal with it.

    • Well, your willful ignorance is not really my problem, but you directing your ‘humor’ my way is. And I have dealt with it by letting you know that.

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