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This image was taken by IMAGE's EUV imager instrument on August 11, 2000. IMAGE was looking down on the Earth from above the north pole. In this false-color image, you can see a circle in the middle where the Earth is. You can see the Earth's own shadow cast to the bottom left. You can see glowing near the center of the circle - that's the auroral lights. And finally, you can see the tail of the magnetosphere (upper left) being swept back by the solar wind.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA and the IMAGE science team

IMAGE Shows off its Best Stuff!
News story originally written on February 5, 2001

There has been a lot of exciting news about space missions in the last week! The International Space Station is soon to have visitors, NEAR will land on an asteroid soon and the IMAGE spacecraft has been showing off its best stuff!

The IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause -to- Aurora Global Exploration) spacecraft was launched on March 25, 2000. IMAGE has been studying the Earth's magnetosphere, the region about the Earth that contains the Earth's magnetic field. IMAGE is the first spacecraft to actually "see" the charged particles that make up the magnetic field surrounding Earth. Just recently, pictures like the one to the left were released. These pictures show the Earth's magnetosphere including a tail-like structure. A magnetotail had been predicted over 30 years ago, but confirmation was left until now.

IMAGE has six instruments onboard that work together to photograph the plasma captured in the magnetosphere. They make it possible to "see" a lot of the magnetosphere at one time, in different wavelengths. "IMAGE is providing for the first time global views of the Earth's charged-particle populations at multiple wavelengths and energies on time scales of a few minutes, which is sufficient to track the dynamics of the magnetosphere," said Dr. James Burch, IMAGE Principal Investigator.

The magnetosphere of the Earth acts as a shield against the possibly dangerous solar wind particles that flow from the Sun. That is why the magnetosphere is shaped like a tear-drop - the solar wind pushes and distorts it into this shape. But sometimes, explosive events on the Sun can charge the magnetosphere with energy that causes geomagnetic storms. These storms can have harmless effects like causing the auroral lights or they can have severe effects like damaging satellites or power grids on Earth. So, the IMAGE mission is essential in studying and coming up with ways to forecast space weather which affects life on Earth.

Last modified February 5, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA