Uncovering the Mystery of Auroral Beads

A special type of aurora, draped east-west across the night sky like a glowing pearl necklace, is helping scientists better understand the science of auroras and their powerful drivers out in space.

Known as auroral beads, these lights often show up just before large auroral displays, which are caused by electrical storms in space called substorms. Until now, scientists weren’t sure if auroral beads are somehow connected to other auroral displays as a phenomenon in space that precedes substorms, or if they are caused by disturbances closer to Earth’s atmosphere.

But powerful new computer models, combined with observations from NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms – THEMIS – mission, have provided the first direct evidence of the events in space that lead to the appearance of these beads and demonstrated the important role they play in our local space environment.

Read more: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/aurora-m…

Music: “Intrigues and Plots” and “Repetitive Motion” by Laurent Dury [SACEM] from Universal Production Music

Video credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Joy Ng (USRA): Lead Producer

Mara Johnson-Groh (SESDA): Producer

Kareem Sorathia (JHUAPL): Scientist

Slava Merkin (JHUAPL): Scientist

Evgeny Panov (OAW): Scientist

This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio at: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/13687

13 thoughts on “Uncovering the Mystery of Auroral Beads

  1. Ballooning‐Interchange Instability in the Near‐Earth Plasma Sheet and Auroral Beads: Global Magnetospheric Modeling at the Limit of the MHD Approximation
    https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2020GL088227

    So MHD, Magneto-Hydro-Dynamics, high performance computing simulations, at the limit.
    For sure MHD is highly developed, after the test-ban Treaty, thermonuclear activity went “underground” to huge HPC centers at various national labs.

    Whether the aurora workers have access to all that good stuff, which after all, is paid for by tax-dollars?
    And Fusion energy production needs access too. Maybe someone opened the gates?

    This is a far cry from “climate” modelling. Still, here too, inbuilt axioms will limit plasma outcomes.

    • bonbon, MHD modeling is faulty.

      Why? Because it is an incorrect model of plasma behavior.

      Plasma and the electrical currents and the electromagnetic phenomenon associated with plasma and electrical currents are not “frozen” in plasma.

      But MHD modeling assumes magnetic fields are “rozen” into the plasma.

      The “pearls” most likely are plasmoids, an electro-magnetic enity. And, I suggest they are part of a circuit of electricity flowing in the atmosphere.

  2. It will very interesting what the interactions with the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field will be as the magnetic field continues its decline in intensity and the magnetic poles move away from the polar regions in the coming decades.

    I find it hard to believe the MSM hasn’t picked up on this and started blasting Chicken Little articles. Maybe as the climate and ocean level catastrophes fail to come about this will be next up. They are holding it in reserve so to speak. Auroras over Indonesia has a nice ring to it.

  3. Ugh. Every time I see “powerful new computer models” I cringe. The climate change crowd has ruined me for modelling.

    • Did the beads in simulated code result from encoding only foundational principles — e.g. Maxwell’s equations — or was there a lot of preliminary jiggering to come up with just the right differential equations and boundary conditions to produce the beads?

  4. The beads are the ends of flux tubes that form because that’s how sheets of electrons organize themselves. They mark the point where incoming electrons reverse direction and heat southward toward the opposite pole. Just thinking out loud.

  5. Interesting to see that they are observing a new auroral phenomenon, but some of the pictures sure looks like auroral curls known to be instabilities in current sheets. It is also interesting to see how the quality of the images have deteriorated over the last 50 years. We had much better videos back in the early 70s. Now if they could only explain black auroral curls it would be really interesting.

  6. Americans are suckers for a British accent. Sounds so special and sciency. Why didn’t NASA, a U.S. agency, use a Southern belle with a silky drawl?

  7. Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén (Swedish: ; 30 May 1908 – 2 April 1995) was a Swedish electrical engineer, plasma physicist and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), which he later disavowed.

    It is astounding the ignorance astrophysicists and other scientists exhibit when confronted with plasma phenomena. They are adamant in calling plasmoids “bubbles” or “beads” and trying to explain plasma behavior with gas “laws”. These ding-dongs use the “beads on a string” description for many electrical phenomena in nature.

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