NASA researchers have been tracking a strange new development in an already strange phenomenon: the dent in Earth’s magnetic field appears to be splitting in half.
Yes, the Earth’s magnetic field has a weak spot, right over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean, called the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA).
Currently, this anomaly does not impact us on the ground in any way. But when satellites pass through the anomaly, they have to account for extra radiation — and studying this so-called “dent” allows scientists to learn more about Earth’s magnetic fields and plan for future space missions and satellites.
A visualization released on Monday of the changing magnetic fields between 2015 and 2025 shows the anomaly splitting off into two distinct regions in the next few years.
It also shows that the distortions in the magnetic field aren’t just occurring above the planet — they are happening deep inside of Earth as well, at the boundary between the mantle and the molten core.
SO WHAT IS GOING ON?
Earth’s magnetic fields are far more complex than they appear. Although they function somewhat like a bar magnet (a dipole), with North and South poles, the magnetic field itself can fluctuate and change, as it results from the constant churning of Earth’s liquid iron core, which generates electrical currents.
According to the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the region of space in a bubble around Earth where the “dominant magnetic field is the magnetic field of Earth, rather than the magnetic field of interplanetary space” is called the “magnetosphere.”
The magnetosphere is where solar winds interact with Earth’s magnetic fields. The pressure of these winds are what forces the magnetic field to curve around the dayside of Earth, and expand out into space in a tail from the nightside of the Earth, like water moving around a rock in a stream. Because the Earth is constantly turning, presenting a new side of the Earth towards the Sun, the magnetosphere is always changing shape.
Energy coming off of the Sun can sometimes interact with the magnetosphere in ways that create what is called “space weather events.” These events, such as geomagnetic storms, can threaten human technology and communications around the Earth, as well as astronauts in orbit. Satellites, GPS, electric power grids and even the flights of commercial airlines can all be disturbed by a stormy day in space.
Charged particles that make it through the first layer of the magnetosphere can get trapped in something called the Van Allen Belts, which are belts of radiation around the Earth. These belts are far enough away from the Earth’s surface to prevent us from feeling the effects of this radiation, but where they interact with the SAA, more particles can get closer to Earth.
If Earth’s magnetic field is like a blanket around the planet, protecting us from charged particles from the Sun, the SAA is a place where the material has worn thin.
According to NOAA, the SAA allows “cosmic rays and charged particles to reach lower into the atmosphere.” They note that the anomaly can change in intensity, and can affect satellites because it is full of “high energy particles that can penetrate the skin of the spacecraft and cause upsets in spacecraft electronics.”
Satellites hit by high-energy protons can short-circuit or have issues communicating with the ground.
The International Space Station has also experienced issues when passing through the SAA. While the humans on board are well protected from radiation, instruments that collect information from the outside of the ISS can be reset by the trip through the anomaly, or register blips in their data.
Weijia Kuang, a geophysicist and mathematician in Goddard’s Geodesy and Geophysics Laboratory, said in an article about the SAA splitting on NASA’s website that what we are currently seeing with the SAA could be “a consequence of weakening dominance of the dipole field in the region.
“More specifically, a localized field with reversed polarity grows strongly in the SAA region, thus making the field intensity very weak, weaker than that of the surrounding regions.”
Terry Sabaka, a geophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, is one of the scientists tracking the SAA, along with Kuang.
Using data from the European Space Agency’s Swarm constellation, which is a trio of identical satellites, as well as previous information from various agencies, scientists are aiming to forecast changes in the magnetic field and the SAA into the future.
“Even though the SAA is slow-moving, it is going through some change in morphology, so it’s also important that we keep observing it by having continued missions,” Sabaka said in the article on NASA’s website. “Because that’s what helps us make models and predictions.”
Scientists are hoping that by tracking the SAA’s split, and the geomagnetic forces surrounding the Earth, they can prepare for issues that may arise in the future for satellites and astronauts.
Buried lakes of salty water on Mars may provide conditions for life – MENAFN.COM
(MENAFN – The Conversation) In 2018 a team of Italian scientists announced to the world that there was a lake on Mars . Using satellite radar data, the team detected a very bright area approximately 20 kilometres across located about 1.5 kilometres deep under the ice and dust of the south polar cap.
After analysis, they concluded that the bright area was a subglacial lake filled with liquid water. The discovery raised some fundamental questions.
Was this the only lake hidden beneath the ice on Mars? How could liquid water exist in the extreme cold of the Martian south polar region, where the average surface temperatures are lower than -100 °C?
After acquiring additional satellite data, my colleagues and I have discovered three more distinct ‘lakes’ near the one found in 2018 and confirmed that all four bodies contain liquid water.
Read more: Mars: mounting evidence for subglacial lakes, but could they really host life?
How can we see lakes under the ice on Mars?
The radar sounder MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) is one of eight instruments on board the European Space Agency orbiter Mars Express. This scientific spacecraft has been circling the red planet since December 2003.
The orbiting radar directs radio ‘chirps’ toward the planetary surface. These signals are partly reflected back by the surface, and partly penetrate deeper, where they may be absorbed, scattered, or reflected back to the radar. Liquid water reflects radar signals better than many other materials, so the surface of a body of liquid water shines brightly in a radar image.
Radar sounders are used on Earth to detect subglacial lakes in Antarctica, Greenland and Canada. Here, a technique called radio-echo sounding (RES) is commonly used to analyse the signals.
There are some obvious differences between how radar sounding is used on Earth and on Mars. For a start, MARSIS operates from altitudes between 250 km and 900 km above the surface, it has a 40-metre long antenna, and it operates at much lower frequencies (1.8-5 MHz) than Earth-based radar sounders.
These differences meant we had to do some work to adapt standard radio-echo sounding techniques for use with signals from MARSIS. However, we were able to analyse data from 134 MARSIS tracks acquired between 2010 and 2019 over an area 250 km wide and 300 km long near the south pole of Mars.
In this area, we identified three distinct bright patches around the lake already ‘seen’ in 2018. We then used an unconventional probabilistic method to confirm that the bright patches really do represent bodies of liquid water.
We also obtained a much clearer picture of the shape and extent of the lake discovered in 2018. It is still the largest of the bodies of water, measuring 20 km across on its shortest axis and 30 km on its longest.
How could liquid water exist beneath the Martian ice?
The surface temperatures in our study area are around -110 °C on average. The temperatures at the base of the ice cap may be slightly warmer, but still way below the freezing point of pure water.
So how can bodies of liquid water exist here, let alone persist for periods of time long enough for us to detect them?
After the first lake was found in 2018, other groups had suggested the area might be warmed from below by magma within the planet crust. However, there is to date no evidence this is the case, so we think extremely high salt levels in the water are a more likely explanation.
Read more: What on Earth could live in a salt water lake on Mars? An expert explains
Perchlorate salts, which contain chlorine, oxygen, and another element, such as magnesium or calcium, are everywhere in the Martian soil. These salts absorb moisture from the atmosphere and turn to liquid (this process is termed ‘deliquescence’), producing hypersaline aqueous solutions (brines), which crystallise at temperatures far below the freezing point of pure water. Furthermore, laboratory experiments have shown that solutions formed by deliquescence can stay liquid for long periods even after temperatures drop below their own freezing points.
We therefore suggested in our paper that the waters in the south polar subglacial lakes are ‘salty’. This is particularly fascinating, because it has been shown that brines like these can hold enough dissolved oxygen to support microbial life.
Could conditions be right for life beneath the ice?
Our discoveries raise new questions. Is the chemistry of the water in the south polar subglacial lakes suitable for life? How does this modify our definitions of habitable environments? Was there ever life on Mars?
To address these questions new experiments and new missions must be planned. In the meantime, we are gearing up to continue acquiring MARSIS data to collect as much evidence as possible from the Martian subsurface.
Each new piece of evidence brings us one step closer to answering some of the most fundamental scientific questions about Mars, the solar system and the universe.
Read more: Mars: mounting evidence for subglacial lakes, but could they really host life?
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Scientists find evidence of multiple underground lakes on Mars – Yahoo News Canada
The team used data from a radar instrument on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft to investigate the planet’s southern polar region. Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding or MARSIS, as the instrument is called, is capable of sending out radio waves that bounce off materials on the planet’s surface. Different materials reflect those signals differently, and the same technique is used to find subsurface glacial lakes here on Earth.
Upon observing an area that’s around 75,000 square kilometers in size, they found locations that reflected those signals back in a way that indicates the presence of water trapped underneath a kilometer of ice. The main lake, the one discovered back in 2018, measures 30 kilometers or 19 miles across, while each of the three smaller lakes surrounding it are a few kilometers across.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="While the scientists’ findings are promising, some experts still believe we won’t find lakes on the red planet at all. Jack Holt, a planetary scientist part of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter program, doesn’t believe there’s enough heat flow under the surface of the planet for water to remain liquid. And even if we do find liquid water under Martian ice, that won’t automatically mean we’ll also find life. See, the lakes have to be very salty to remain liquid, but their salt content must not exceed five times that of seawater to be able to support life. As John Priscu, an environmental scientist at Montana State University, told Nature:” data-reactid=”27″>While the scientists’ findings are promising, some experts still believe we won’t find lakes on the red planet at all. Jack Holt, a planetary scientist part of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter program, doesn’t believe there’s enough heat flow under the surface of the planet for water to remain liquid. And even if we do find liquid water under Martian ice, that won’t automatically mean we’ll also find life. See, the lakes have to be very salty to remain liquid, but their salt content must not exceed five times that of seawater to be able to support life. As John Priscu, an environmental scientist at Montana State University, told Nature:
“There’s not much active life in… briny pools in Antarctica. They’re just pickled. And that might be the case [on Mars].”
'Most extreme planet discovered': Scientists find blistering exoplanet with temperatures near 3,200C – National Post
As the study of planets outside our solar system continues, astronomers have discovered what they have described as the ‘most extreme planet’ ever observed, with surface temperatures more blistering than those of some stars.
Researchers at the University of Bern say that the exoplanet, dubbed WASP-189b, is a gaseous giant 1.6 times larger than Jupiter and can record temperatures of up to 3,200 degrees Celsius, hot enough enough to met all rocks and metal and turn them into gaseous form.
The planet, they said, orbits the star HD 133112, known to be one of the hottest stars with a planetary system 2,000 degrees Celsius hotter than our Sun.
Despite being an enormous gaseous giant, WASP-189b is situated much closer to its star than Jupiter is to the sun, and so only take 2.7 days to orbit its star, with one side experiencing a permanent ‘night’ and the other a permanent ‘day’.
“WASP-189b is especially interesting because it is a gas giant that orbits very close to its host star,” astrophysicist Monika Lendl said, according to the university’s press release. “It takes less than three days for it to circle its star, and it is 20 times closer to it than Earth is to the Sun.”
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