Shop Windows to the Universe

Science, Evolution, and Creationism, by the National Academies, focuses on teaching evolution in today's classrooms. Check out the other publications in our online store.

Charged Particle Motion in Earth's Magnetosphere

This is an image of the Earth's magnetosphere.
Click on image for full size
Original artwork by the Windows to the Universe team.

Motions within Earth's metallic core generate the planet's global magnetic field. This magnetic field extends beyond Earth's surface and atmosphere into the space surrounding our home planet. The interaction between Earth's magnetic field, the vast magnetic field of the Sun, and the solar wind (the stream of electrically charged particles flowing outward from the Sun) creates a complex "magnetic bubble" in the space around Earth. This region is called the magnetosphere.

The magnetic field within the magnetosphere is produced by the combination of Earth's field with the constantly varying field of the Sun, and is thus a complex and dynamic structure. The magnetosphere contains ionized plasmas from two sources: solar wind particles (mostly protons and electrons) flowing outward from the Sun, and ionized atoms (mostly oxygen and nitrogen) knocked loose from Earth's tenuous upper atmosphere. These plasmas swirl in complex patterns throughout the various regions of the magnetosphere. Radiation belts accumulate swarms of energetic particles, charged particles gain energy as they spiral along magnetic field lines, and the collisions of particles with Earth's upper atmosphere near the poles produces the light shows known as the auroras.

This tour investigates the physics of charged particle motions in Earth's magnetosphere.

Last modified May 11, 2005 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!

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

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

The Magnetic Field

The force of magnetism causes material to point along the direction the magnetic force points. As shown in the diagram to the left, the force of magnetism is illustrated by lines, which represent the force....more

The Earth's Magnetic Field

The Earth has a magnetic field with north and south poles. The Earth's magnetic field reaches 36,000 miles into space. The magnetic field of the Earth is surrounded in a region called the magnetosphere....more

The Plasma State

Plasma is known as the fourth state of matter. The other three states are solid, liquid and gas.In most cases, matter on Earth has electrons that orbit around the atom's nucleus. The negatively charged...more

The Exosphere

Very high up, the Earth's atmosphere becomes very thin. The region where atoms and molecules escape into space is referred to as the exosphere. The exosphere is on top of the thermosphere....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

Radiation Belts

The Earth's radiation belts are just one part of the system called the magnetosphere. The radiation belts of the Earth are made up of electrons, protons and heavier atomic ions. These particles get trapped...more

Basic Facts About the Effects of Magnetic Fields on Charged Particles

Magnetic fields can cause particles to move in these three ways: Spiral Motion Bounce Motion Drift Motion ...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