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
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