As Above So Below

Bright aurora in Utsjoki, Finnish Lapland. Credit: Rayann Elzein.

January 8, 2020

What happens in space affects Earth.

NASA launched the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft on August 25, 1997. From its location at LaGrange point L1, ACE analyzes the solar wind, providing real-time “space weather” reports about geomagnetic storms. ACE should be able to continue its mission until 2024, although some instruments are failing. Onboard ACE is one instrument that is still going strong, the Solar Wind Electron Proton Alpha Monitor (SWEPAM), designed for direct scrutiny of coronal mass ejections (CME), so-called “interplanetary shockwaves”, and the solar wind.

On January 6, 2020 ACE detected a “compression” of Earth’s magnetosphere. That compression initiated a flow of electricity beneath the surface of northern Norway—so-called “telluric currents” were observed. As Rob Stammes, from the Polar Light Center geophysical observatory in Lofoten, Norway wrote:

“Electrical currents started flowing, It seemed to be some kind of shockwave. My instruments detected a sudden, strong variation in both ground currents and our local magnetic field. It really was a surprise.”

As the announcement reports, about 15 minutes later, the aurorae in Finland became active. Rayann Elzein from Utsjoki, Finland said:

“What a surprise! The auroras were sudden and dynamic, with fast-moving green needles and several purple fringes!”

In the conventional view, the Sun accelerates electrons out and away from its surface through a process akin to amplified sound waves. Referred to as “p-modes”, they supposedly cause energetic pulsations in the solar photosphere as they “bounce around” the Sun’s interior. When they travel upward through wave-guides called magnetic flux tubes, they push “hot gas” outward in giant structures called spicules. The spicules rise thousands of kilometers above the photosphere and carry plasma with them.

One of the more interesting discoveries by ACE is electron depletion in the solar wind due to “back streaming electrons” that flow into the Sun from surrounding space. These electrons do not conform to the newest theories about the Sun’s activity, since the conveyance of electric charge is not considered. Consequently, such discoveries are often referred to as “mysterious” when electrical activity presents itself in unexpected ways.

As retired Professor of Electrical Engineering, Dr. Donald Scott, wrote:

“In order to maintain the double layer above the photosphere that causes almost all the observed properties of the Sun, a certain ratio of the number of outgoing positive ions to the number of incoming electrons must exist…”

Earth’s electromagnetic field does not originate from a single source. Instead, different areas generate greater or lesser fluctuating electromagnetism—exactly how it changes is not known. Differences in the electromagnetic flux density surrounding Earth’s fields can influence those changing fields. So far, data indicates that ocean water forms an electric current that, in turn, induces electromagnetic feedback in the mantle, a region between 30 kilometers deep under the continents and 5 kilometers below the ocean floor. Although the effect is small, it contributes to Earth’s overall intrinsic fields. An important note is that the electric charge flow is induced by coupling with the magnetosphere.

There is an electromagnetic “jet stream” below the crust in Earth’s higher latitudes. “Jet” might be somewhat of a stretch, since the speed of the current is approximately 40 kilometers per year. Planetary scientists attribute these readings to liquid iron circulating around the poles. Earth is not an isolated body whose fields and forces come from internal activity, alone. Rather, as previous Picture of the Day articles point out, Earth’s ionosphere is connected to the Sun by filaments of electric charge, so upper regions of the atmosphere are influenced by solar emissions. Earth has an electrically active plasmasphere, so it is “plugged-in” to a an electrical circuit. For example, electric charge flow between the ground and the ionosphere, called “the atmospheric electric potential”, can reach 240,000 volts, sometimes exceeding 400,000 volts.

In May of 2007, NASA’s THEMIS satellite detected a “magnetic rope” in the magnetopause as wide as Earth, itself. Approximately 70,000 kilometers out in space, the magnetopause is where the solar wind meets Earth’s magnetic field, providing a conduit for electrical energy from the Sun. Charge flow is coupled to the magnetosphere that then completes a circuit with the ionosphere. Ionospheric currents then induce charge flow in Earth’s subterranean strata. That electric flux is known as the telluric current mentioned in the press release.

Perhaps it is not rivers of molten iron, but streams of electric charge circulating through zones that are more conductive to electricity from space.

Stephen Smith

Hat tip to Willam Thompson

The Thunderbolts Picture of the Day is generously supported by the Mainwaring Archive Foundation.

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