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Where does Earth's leaking atmosphere go?

Date: 07 July 2016
Satellite: Cluster
Depicts: Artist's impression of Earth's magnetosphere and leaky upper atmosphere
Copyright: ESA/ATG medialab

Earth's atmosphere is leaking. Every day, around 90 tonnes of material escapes from our planet's upper atmosphere and streams out into space.

ESA's Cluster mission has shown that a steady, continuous flow of material (indicated by the orange line in this sketch), comprising oxygen, hydrogen, and helium ions, leaves our planet's plasmasphere from the polar regions, replenishing the plasma within the magnetosphere.

In addition, sporadic, powerful columns of plasma, dubbed plumes, grow within the plasmasphere. These travel (depicted by the blue region) towards the edge of the magnetosphere and interact with solar wind plasma entering the magnetosphere.

Last Update: 07 July 2016

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