This image shows some of the structures that make up Earth's magnetosphere.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe original artwork.
Space Weather at Earth and in Near-Earth Space (Geospace)
Earth's magnetosphere shields our planet from most of the solar wind. Some solar wind particles do leak in and combine with ions escaping from the top of Earth's atmosphere to populate the magnetosphere with plasma. These energetic particles impact our lives as well - delighting us with beautiful auroral displays or bedeviling us by "zapping" electronics on satellites.
Earth's magnetic field produces a cavity in the solar wind around our planet - Earth's magnetosphere. Solar wind protons and electrons mix with ionized gases leaked from the top of Earth's atmosphere to form a complex "soup" of plasma within the magnetosphere. The force of the IMF and Earth's magnetic field on these charged particles pushes the particles about, generating electrical currents within the plasmas and accelerating some particles to high energies. The uppermost reaches of Earth's atmosphere merge gradually into space. Gases high in the atmosphere absorb most of the harshest forms of radiation from space, including energetic x-rays and ultraviolet photons. Accelerated, ionized gases escape the atmosphere into space, while solar wind particles "precipitate" onto the upper atmosphere from the magnetosphere.
What affect does space weather have on human society? Radiation can damage electronics on satellites and pose health risks to astronauts. Electrical and magnetic disturbances disrupt radio communications, cause electrical power blackouts, and diminish accuracy of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). However, our atmosphere does protect us from most of the dangers posed by radiation from space, and sometimes even treats us to a wonderful show in the form of the aurora.
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, ranging from seismology
, rocks and minerals
, and Earth system science
You might also be interested in:
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
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 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
Radiation comes in two basic types: electromagnetic radiation transmitted by photons, and particle radiation consisting of electrons, protons, alpha particles, and so forth. Electromagnetic radiation,...more
Space weather "storms" can cause problems on Earth. They can even mess up our systems that make electricity and that deliver electricity to peoples' houses. Sometimes really big space weather storms can...more
Certain animal species on Earth (such as the homing pigeon) are able to detect Earth's magnetic field and use it for navigational purposes. Homing pigeons have been known to reach home by flying over 1,6...more
Space weather is a very complex scientific field. Scientists who study space weather use computer models a lot. Space weather is a bit like weather on Earth in this way because weather forecasters on our...more