Shop Windows to the Universe

The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.
Drawing of Earth's magnetosphere. Notice that the magnetic field is much larger than the planet!
Click on image for full size
Windows Original Image

The Earth's Magnetosphere

The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The magnetic field of the Earth is enclosed in a region surrounding the Earth called the magnetosphere. As the Earth rotates, its hot core generates strong electric currents that produce the magnetic field. This field reaches 36,000 miles into space. The magnetosphere prevents most of the particles from the sun, carried in solar wind, from impacting the Earth. The solar wind distorts the shape of the magnetosphere by compressing it at the front and causing a long tail to form on the side away from the Sun. This long tail is called the magnetotail .

Some particles from the solar wind can enters the magnetosphere. The particles that enter from the magnetotail travel toward the Earth and create the auroral oval light shows.

The Sun and other planets have magnetospheres, but the Earth has the strongest one of all the rocky planets. The Earth's north and south magnetic poles reverse at irregular intervals of hundreds of thousands of years. In addition, the poles wander over shorter periods of time (hundreds of years).

Last modified March 29, 2010 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, as well as books on science education!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

How Does the Earth's Magnetic Field Protect Us From Space Radiation?

Dangerous particles are not able to penetrate to the Earth's surface but are forced by the magnetic field to move around the Earth. Particles gain entry through the cusps that are shaped like funnels over...more

Planetary Magnets

The Earth is a good example of a planetary dipole, where the lines of force point in a direction out of the South (magnetic) Pole and into the North (magnetic) Pole. Planets can also show evidence of quadrupoles...more

Magnetosphere

A magnetosphere has many parts, such as the bow shock, magnetosheath, magnetotail, plasmasheet, lobes, plasmasphere, radiation belts and many electric currents. It is composed of charged particles and...more

The Moon's Magnetosphere

Unlike the Earth, which has a protective shield around it called the magnetosphere, the surface of the moon is not protected from the solar wind. This picture shows the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth,...more

Spiral Path of Material

For a planet to be affected by a blob of material being ejected by the sun, the planet must be in the path of the blob, as shown in this picture. The Earth and its magnetosphere are shown in the bottom...more

Radiation Belts

The Earth's radiation belts are one component of the larger and more complex system called the magnetosphere. The radiation belts of the Earth are made up of energetic, electrically charged particles or...more

Scientists Successfully Launch CAPER

After waiting weeks for the right solar and atmospheric conditions, scientists were finally able to launch the Cleft Acceleration Plasma Experimental Rocket (CAPER) from Andoya Rocket Range in Norway....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF