Magnetic reconnection region larger than 2.5 million km found in the solar wind
11 January 2006Using the ESA Cluster spacecraft and the NASA Wind and ACE satellites, a team of American and European scientists have discovered the largest jets of particles created between the Earth and the Sun by magnetic reconnection. This result makes the cover of this week's issue of Nature.
Magnetic reconnection is a magnetic to particle energy conversion process believed to be important in astrophysics (intergalactic medium, neutron stars), solar and space physics (solar flares, coronal mass ejections, geomagnetic storms), and laboratory devices (tokamaks*). Other than in the laboratory, planetary magnetospheres and the solar wind are the only places we can study this process directly. The paper by T. D. Phan et al. addresses an aspect of reconnection that has been hotly debated. Namely, can reconnection occur over an extended region in space or is it intrinsically patchy and random?
The reported observations in the solar wind provide direct evidence that the process is fundamentally large scale and quasi-steady in nature. The 2.5 million kilometre reconnection region is a world record, 2 orders of magnitude longer than the previous record.
These findings are published in the 12 January 2006 issue of Nature.
T. D. Phan, J. T. Gosling, M. S. Davis, R. M. Skoug, M. Øieroset, R. P. Lin, R. P. Lepping, D. J. McComas, C. W. Smith, H. Rème, A. Balogh, A magnetic reconnection X-line extending more than 390 Earth radii in the solar wind, Nature, Vol. 439, 12 January 2006, doi:10.1038/nature04393
* A tokamak is a torus-shaped device to contain plasma by means of strong magnetic fields. The tokamak is used for the research into nuclear fusion processes.