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Planet Earth
Launching Balloons in Antarctica
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Written by Karen C. Fox from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 20:27

They nicknamed it the "Little Balloon That Could." Launched in December of 2010 from McMurdo Station in Antarctica, the research balloon was a test run and it bobbed lower every day like it had some kind of leak. But every day for five days it rose back up in the sky to some 112,000 feet in the air.

The two RBSP spacecraft will help study the Van Allen Radiation belts that surround Earth. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Down on Earth, physicist Robyn Millan was cheering it on, hoping the test launch would bode well for the success of her grand idea: launches in 2013 and 2014 of 20 such balloons to float in the circular wind patterns above the South Pole. Each balloon will help track electrons from space that get swept up in Earth's magnetic field and slide down into our atmosphere. Such electrons are an integral part of the turbulent magnetic space weather system that extends from the sun to Earth.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 20:31
Catching Space Weather in the Act
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Written by Karen C. Fox (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center )
Friday, 18 February 2011 19:10

Close to the globe, Earth's magnetic field wraps around the planet like a gigantic spherical web, curving in to touch Earth at the poles. But this isn't true as you get further from the planet. As you move to the high altitudes where satellites fly, nothing about that field is so simple. Instead, the large region enclosed by Earth's magnetic field, known as the magnetosphere, looks like a long, sideways jellyfish with its round bulb facing the sun and a long tail extending away from the sun.

Credit: Southwest Research Institute/IBEX Science Team


In the center of that magnetic tail lies the plasma sheet. Here, strange things can happen. Magnetic field lines pull apart and come back together, creating explosions when they release energy. Disconnected bits of the tail called "plasmoids" get ejected into space at two million miles per hour. And legions of charged particles flow back toward Earth.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 February 2011 19:14
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