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NASA going Electric Universe: exploring plasma in Van Allen Radiation Belts (RBSP)


The concept of Electric Universe and its main ingredient – Plasma is not new but it looks like now it might get better attention finally. Let’s go back in history for just a moment then come back to where we are now and introduce new NASA space mission RBSP – Radiation Belt Storm Probes – due to launch in August 2012.

A bit of history and an introduction to Electric Universe theory…

The early theoretical foundation for modern astronomy was laid by the work of Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since 1687 when Newton first explained the movement of the planets with his Law of Gravity, science has relied on gravity to explain all large scale events, such as the formation of stars and galaxies, or the births of planetary systems. This foundation rested on the observed role of gravity in our solar system.

Then, in the 19th Century, research pioneers — whose very names crackle with electricity — Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), André Ampère (1775-1836), Michael Faraday (1791-1867), Joseph Henry (1797-1878), James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), and John H. Poynting (1852-1914) began to empirically verify the “laws” governing magnetism and electrodynamic behavior, and developed useful equations describing them.

By the start of the 20th Century a Norwegian researcher, Kristian Birkeland (1867-1917), was exploring the relationship between the aurora borealis and the magnetic fields he was able to measure on the Earth below them. He deduced that flows of electrons from the Sun were the source of the “Northern Lights” — a conclusion confirmed in detail by modern research. It would be at least another seventy years before the phrase “Birkeland currents” began to enter the astronomers’ lexicon.

Subsequent work by other scientists — James Jeans (1877-1946), Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir (1881-1957), Willard Bennett (1903-1987) and Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén (1908-1995), author of Cosmic Plasma — continued to extend our understanding of ionized matter (plasma – the fourth state of matter).

A new tone in astronomy occurred as engineers pointed radio telescopes to the sky and began to detect something astronomers had not expected — radio waves from energetic events in the “emptiness” of space. At the Second IEEE International Workshop on Plasma Astrophysics and Cosmology, 1993, Kevin Healy of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) presented a paper, A Window on the Plasma Universe: The Very Large Array, (VLA) in which he concluded, “With the continuing emergence of serious difficulties in the “standard models” of astrophysics the rise of the importance of plasma physics in the description of many astrophysical systems, the VLA (Very Large Array) is a perfect instrument to provide the observational support for laboratory, simulation, and theoretical work in plasma physics. Its unprecedented flexibility and sensitivity provide a wealth of information on any radio emitting region of the universe.”

At the start of the 21st Century, Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott wrote their collaborative book, The Electric Universe, and electrical engineer and professor Donald E. Scott authored The Electric Sky. Together these works provide the first general introduction to a new understanding of electric currents and magnetic fields in space.

Electric Universe vs. The Gravitational Theory

The Law of Gravity, which relies exclusively on the masses of celestial bodies and the distances between them, works very well for explaining planetary and satellite motions within our solar system. But when astronomers tried to apply it to galaxies and clusters of galaxies, it turns out that nearly 90% of the mass necessary to account for the observed motion is missing.

To make this story as short as possible… astronomers using the Gravity Model were forced to add a lot more mass to every galaxy than can be detected at any wavelength. They called this extra matter “dark” – dark matter; its existence can only be inferred from the failure of predictions. To cover for the insufficiency they gave themselves a blank check, a license to place this imagined stuff wherever needed to make the gravitational model work.

Something very real, perhaps even obvious, is almost certainly missing in the standard Gravity Model. This is where we come back to where we are now and realize that Electric Universe theory has an answer to that. The missing component here is electricity and the visible universe is 99.999% plasma.

Want to learn more about Electric Universe – visit Thunderbolts.Info – original website by David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill.

Radiation Belt Storm Probes

– RBSP –

NASA exploring plasma in Van Allen Radiation Belts

Two giant donuts of plasma surround Earth, trapped within a region known as the Van Allen Radiation Belts. The belts lie close to Earth, sandwiched between satellites in geostationary orbit above and satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) are generally below the belts

A new NASA mission called the Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), due to launch in August 2012, will improve our understanding of what makes plasma move in and out of these electrified belts wrapped around our planet.

“We discovered the radiation belts in observations from the very first spacecraft, Explorer 1, in 1958” says David Sibeck, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the mission scientist for RBSP.

“Characterizing these belts filled with dangerous particles was a great success of the early space age, but those observations led to as many questions as answers. These are fascinating science questions, but also practical questions, since we need to protect satellites from the radiation in the belts.”

The inner radiation belt stays largely stable, but the number of particles in the outer one can swell 100 times or more, easily encompassing a horde of communications satellites and research instruments orbiting Earth. Figuring out what drives these changes in the belts, requires understanding what drives the plasma.

Plasma generally flows along a skeletal structure made of invisible magnetic field lines, while simultaneously creating more magnetic fields as they move.

Teasing out the rules that govern such a foreign environment – one that can only be studied from afar – lies at the heart of understanding a range of events that make up space weather, from giant explosions on the sun to potentially damaging high energy particles in near-Earth environs.

To distinguish between a host of theories developed over the years on plasma movement in those near-Earth environs, RBSP scientists have designed a suite of instruments to answer three broad questions. Where do the extra energy and particles come from? Where do they disappear to, and what sends them on their way?

How do these changes affect the rest of Earth’s magnetic environment, the magnetosphere?

In addition to its broad range of instruments, the RBSP mission will make use of two spacecraft in order to better map out the full spatial dimensions of a particular event and how it changes over time.

Scientists want to understand not only the origins of electrified particles – possibly from the solar wind constantly streaming off the sun; possibly from an area of Earth’s own outer atmosphere, the ionosphere – but also what mechanisms gives the particles their extreme speed and energy.

“We know examples where a storm of incoming particles from the sun can cause the two belts to swell so much that they merge and appear to form a single belt,” says Shri Kanekal, RBSP’s deputy project scientist at Goddard.

“Then there are other examples where a large storm from the sun didn’t affect the belts at all, and even cases where the belts shrank. Since the effects can be so different, there is a joke within the community that ‘If you’ve seen one storm . . . You’ve seen one storm.’ We need to figure out what causes the differences.”

There are two broad theories on how the particles get energy: from radial transport or in situ. In radial transport, particles move perpendicular to the magnetic fields within the belts from areas of low magnetic strength far from Earth to areas of high magnetic strength nearer Earth.

The laws of physics dictate that particle energies correlate to the strength of the magnetic field, increasing as they move towards Earth. The in situ theory posits that electromagnetic waves buffet the particles – much like regular pushes on a swing – successively raising their speed (and energy).

As for how the particles leave the belts, scientists again agree on two broad possibilities: particles go up, or they go down. Perhaps they travel down magnetic field lines toward Earth, out of the belts into the ionosphere, where they stay part of Earth’s magnetic system with the potential to return to the belts at some point. Or they are transported up and out, on a one-way trip to leave the magnetosphere forever and enter interplanetary space.

“In reality, the final answers may well be a combination of the basic possibilities,” says Sibeck. “There may be, and probably are, multiple processes at multiple scales at multiple locations. So RBSP will perform very broad measurements and observe numerous attributes of waves and particles to see how each event influences others.

To distinguish between the wide array of potential theories – not to mention combinations thereof – the instruments on RBSP will be equipped to measure a wide spectrum of information. RBSP will measure a host of different particles, including hydrogen, helium and oxygen, as well as measure magnetic fields and electric fields throughout the belts, both of which can guide the movement of these particles.

RBSP will also measure a wide range of energies from the coldest particles in the ionosphere to the most energetic, most dangerous particles. Information about how the radiation belts swell and shrink will help improve models of Earth’s magnetosphere as a whole.

“Particles from the radiation belts can penetrate into spacecraft and disrupt electronics, short circuits or upset memory on computers,” says Sibeck. “The particles are also dangerous to astronauts traveling through the region. We need models to help predict hazardous events in the belts and right now we are aren’t very good at that. RBSP will help solve that problem.”

While the most immediate practical need for studying the radiation belts is to understand the space weather system near Earth and to protect humans and precious electronics in space from geomagnetic storms, there is another reason scientists are interested in this area.

It is the closest place to study the material, plasma, that pervades the entire universe. Understanding this environment so foreign to our own is crucial to understanding the make up of every star and galaxy in outer space.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) built and will operate the twin RBSP spacecraft for NASA’s Living With a Star program, which is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Sources: NASA, Thunderbolts.InfoSpaceDaily.com

Featured image: Two giant donuts of charged particles called the Van Allen Belts surround Earth. Credit: NASA/T. Benesch, J. Carns 


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One Comment

  1. Electric Universe theory has an answer to that. The missing component here is electricity and the visible universe is 99.999% plasma.

    I been saying it for ever. There is enough energy in space to travel every where….forever. Well as long as your craft still works and of course your still alive. 😉 Any galaxy to galaxy mission will be robotic. Robotic drones could also research our entire galaxy mapping everything out. My one hope is that what ever we send will have enough memory storage to hold megatons of data. Don’t cheese out on that. Send several drones out at a time to search large regions so these drones can keep track of each other and measure everything in between them. Drones should be large enough to carry small drones. Small drones get sent in to investigate things you do not want to lose a main drone in.

    Lots to think about, have fun doing it.

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