high energy electrons

Diving into New Magnetic Territory with the MMS Mission

Our Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS, is on a journey to study a new region of space.  

On May 4, 2017, after three months of precisely coordinated maneuvers, MMS reached its new orbit to begin studying the magnetic environment on the ever-rotating nighttime side of Earth.

The space around Earth is not as empty as it looks. It’s packed with high energy electrons and ions that zoom along magnetic field lines and surf along waves created by electric and magnetic fields.  

MMS studies how these particles move in order to understand a process known as magnetic reconnection, which occurs when magnetic fields explosively collide and re-align.

After launch, MMS started exploring the magnetic environment on the side of Earth closest to the sun. Now, MMS has been boosted into a new orbit that tops out twice as high as before, at over 98,000 miles above Earth’s surface.

The new orbit will allow the spacecraft to study magnetic reconnection on the night side of Earth, where the process is thought to cause the northern and southern lights and energize particles that fill the radiation belts, a doughnut-shaped region of trapped particles surrounding Earth.  

MMS uses four separate but identical spacecraft, which fly in a tight pyramid formation known as a tetrahedron. This allows MMS to map the magnetic environment in three dimensions.

MMS made many discoveries during its first two years in space, and its new orbit will open the door to even more. The information scientists get from MMS will help us better understand our space environment, which helps in planning future missions to explore even further beyond our planet. Learn more about MMS at nasa.gov/mms.

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Astrophysicists map out the light energy contained within the Milky Way

For the first time, a team of scientists have calculated the distribution of all light energy contained within the Milky Way, which will provide new insight into the make-up of our galaxy and how stars in spiral galaxies such as ours form. The study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

This research, conducted by astrophysicists at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in collaboration with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany and from the Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy, also shows how the stellar photons, or stellar light, within the Milky Way control the production of the highest energy photons in the Universe, the gamma-rays. This was made possible using a novel method involving computer calculations that track the destiny of all photons in the galaxy, including the photons that are emitted by interstellar dust, as heat radiation.

Previous attempts to derive the distribution of all light in the Milky Way based on star counts have failed to account for the all-sky images of the Milky Way, including recent images provided by the European Space Agency’s Planck Space Observatory, which map out heat radiation or infrared light.

Lead author Prof Cristina Popescu from the University of Central Lancashire, said: “We have not only determined the distribution of light energy in the Milky Way, but also made predictions for the stellar and interstellar dust content of the Milky Way.”

By tracking all stellar photons and making predictions for how the Milky Way should appear in ultraviolet, visual and heat radiation, scientists have been able to calculate a complete picture of how stellar light is distributed throughout our Galaxy. An understanding of these processes is a crucial step towards gaining a complete picture of our Galaxy and its history.

The modelling of the distribution of light in the Milky Way follows on from previous research that Prof Popescu and Dr Richard Tuffs from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics conducted on modelling the stellar light from other galaxies, where the observer has an outside view.

Commenting on the research, Dr Tuffs, one of the co-authors of the paper, said: “It has to be noted that looking at galaxies from outside is a much easier task than looking from inside, as in the case of our Galaxy.”

Scientists have also been able to show how the stellar light within our Galaxy affects the production of gamma-ray photons through interactions with cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are high-energy electrons and protons that control star and planet formation and the processes governing galactic evolution. They promote chemical reactions in interstellar space, leading to the formation of complex and ultimately life-critical molecules.

Dr Tuffs added: “Working backwards through the chain of interactions and propagations, one can work out the original source of the cosmic rays.”

The research, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was strongly interdisciplinary, bringing together optical and infrared astrophysics and astro-particle physics. Prof Popescu notes: “We had developed some of our computational programs before this research started, in the context of modelling spiral galaxies, and we need to thank the UK’s Science and Technology Facility Council (STFC) for their support in the development of these codes. This research would also not have been possible without the support of the Leverhulme Trust, which is greatly acknowledged

IMAGE….An all-sky image of the Milky Way, as observed by the Planck Space Observatory in infrared. The data contained in this image were used in this research and were essential in calculating the distribution of the light energy of our galaxy.
Credit: ESA / HFI / LFI consortia.

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Made with SoundCloud
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JAXA launches radiation belt research satellite on enhanced Epsilon rocket. 

Marking its first operational launch, an enhanced version of Japan’s Epsilon rocket blasted off carrying a mission to study how Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts could affect future astronauts and robotic missions.

The Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace launched from the Uchinoura space center at 8pm Japan Standard Time (6am EDT), beginning a 13-minute climb to a highly elliptical orbit. Epsilon’s three stages performed flawlessly, clearing the vehicle towards operational status.

Operated by JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, ERG will work in conjunction with NASA’s dual Radiation Belt Solar Probes, which were launched in 2012. Together, the three spacecraft will study high-energy electrons and their interactions with space weather. ERG, in an elliptical orbit, will measure conditions downstream from the RBSP probes, which are closer to Earth’s equator.

RBSP was approved by NASA for an extended mission in 2014 with the intent of working jointly with ERG; JAXA received funding from the Japanese government for ERG largely in part to the two agencies plans to incorporate the two missions.

Once ERG successfully reached orbit, JAXA renamed the satellite Arase, after a dynamic river flowing near the Uchinoura launch base.

UPDATE: Official JAXA highlight video from the Arase mission: