Sun Attacks, but Earth Fights Back
Geophysicists have found that the Earth fights deadly solar radiation with a plasma punch.
In Science Magazine, a team of geophysicists found another way that the earth’s magnetosphere protects life on the surface. When high-energy ions in the solar wind threaten to work their way through cracks in the magnetosphere, earth sends up a “plasma plume” to block them. The automatic mechanism is described on New Scientist as a “plasma shield” that battles solar storms. They quote Joel Borofsky (Space Science Institute) who says, “Earth doesn’t just sit there and take whatever the solar wind gives it, it can actually fight back.”
Earth’s magnetic shield can develop “cracks” when the sun’s magnetic field links up with it in a process called “reconnection.” Between the field lines, high-energy charged particles can flow during solar storms, leading to spectacular auroras, but also disrupting ground-based communications. But Earth has an arsenal to defend itself. Plasma created by solar UV is stored in a donut-shaped ring around the globe. When cracks develop, the plasma cloud can send up “tendrils” of plasma to fight off the charged solar particles. The tendrils create a buffer zone that weakens reconnection.
This plasma shielding was suspected in theory, but has now been observed. Lead author Brian Walsh (NASA-Goddard) explained on New Scientist:
“For the first time, we were able to monitor the entire cycle of this plasma stretching from the atmosphere to the boundary between Earth’s magnetic field and the sun’s,” says Walsh. “It gets to that boundary and helps protect us, keeps these solar storms from slamming into us.“
Borofsky said in a Perspective piece in Science Magazine that this observation is made possible by looking at the magnetosphere from a “systems science” approach. Geophysicists can now see the whole cycle as a “negative feedback loop” – “that is, the stronger the driving, the more rapidly plasma is fed into the reconnection site,” he explains. “…it is a system-wide phenomenon involving the ionosphere, the near-Earth magnetosphere, the sunward boundary of the magnetosphere, and the solar wind; and it involves diverse physical processes such as ionospheric outflows, magnetospheric transport, and magnetic-field-line reconnection.”
The result of all these complex interactions is another level of protection for life on Earth that automatically adjusts for the fury of the battle:
The plasmasphere effect is indicative of a new level of sophistication in the understanding of how the magnetospheric system operates. The effect can be particularly important for reducing solar-wind/magnetosphere coupling during geomagnetic storms. Instead of unchallenged solar-wind control of the rate of solar-wind/magnetosphere coupling, we see that the magnetosphere, with the help of the ionosphere, fights back.
This finding implies that Mercury, Venus and Mars, which lack a global magnetic field, have no such protection. Because of this mechanism, even the most severe coronal mass ejections (CME) do not cause serious harm to the organisms on the surface of the Earth.
Here’s another Privileged Planet protection mechanism we knew little about. That bright sun, such a stable-looking glory that illuminates our planet, is really a deadly beast, but our plasma shield is always there when needed, with the perfect weapons at the right time, fighting back. In our thousands of years of ignorance, it was saving our lives. Should we not be the most thankful people that ever walked this world, instead of a community of godless researchers trying to eliminate the Designer from our thoughts?