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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.

Solar Wind Putting the Squeeze on Earth's Atmosphere
News story originally written on December 10, 1998

NASA researchers used the Polar spacecraft to find evidence that solar storms push part of our atmosphere into space. The force of the solar particles hitting the Earth's ionosphere squeeze the gases into space.

"We now have the first direct, quantifiable evidence that disturbances in the solar wind produce changes in the flow of ions out of the ionosphere," said Dr. Thomas E. Moore, principal investigator for Polar's Thermal Ion Dynamics Experiment (TIDE).

The TIDE instrument was specially designed to measure ions such as oxygen that leave the atmosphere. In September, 1998, a coronal mass ejection increased the density of the solar wind that strikes Earth. TIDI was able to measure increases in the gases being pushed out of the atmosphere. The atmosphere lost a few hundred tons of gas. That's similar to the mass of the oxygen in the Louisiana Superdome.

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