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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
This drawing shows the difference between a dipole and a magnetosphere.
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Image from the AGU Educator's Slide set. Image copyright 1997 by the American Geophysical Union. Further electronic distribution is not allowed.

A Planetary Magnetosphere

A planetary magnetosphere is different from an ordinary dipole. The force of the solar wind, coming from the sun stretches the dipole and creates a nose region in the front of the magnetosphere (facing the sun), and a tail region in the back called a magnetotail.

If it weren't for the solar wind, a planet's magnetic field would extend forever. But because the solar wind presses upon a planet's magnetic field, and encloses it, the magnetic field is forced to stay within a "cavity" called the magnetosphere.

This magnetosphere naturally has a boundary and that boundary is called the magnetopause.

Last modified June 23, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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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