NASA’s Way of Tracking Energy Through Space

Have you ever wondered how energy travels from the sun to the Earth’s magnetosphere? Some scientists consider this question of crucial importance. They claim that it would be beneficial to know how energy changes while traveling out of the sun and away in space. They are getting closer to revealing these changes, and this will allow them to be able to predict natural phenomena like Aurora Borealis.

From microscopic particles to global consequences

Scientists are now aware of most of the details related to the energy journey out of the sun and away in space. They have managed to observe them thanks to eight satellites aligned uniquely through the magnetic area around the Earth. It was NASA’s ARTEMIS and  THEMIS that provided the satellites.

The satellites revealed the mystery around Aurora Borealis. It became clear that the event that causes the aurora forms in space for some milliseconds, the area that it covers is ten times bigger than the Earth, and it lasts on the Earth for about half an hour. Scientists called this process ‘substorm.’

The scientists observing the energy journey were surprised at how some microscopic particles can cause events of global importance.

How do scientists explore the energy journey?

To understand how energy changes throughout its journey, NASA scientists have to observe the whole process from its very formation. They have noticed that energy changes various times and in various forms until it reaches the Earth’s magnetosphere. It appears as magnetic energy, kinetic energy, and also thermal energy. When it reaches the space around the Earth, it undertakes again similar changes of its form.

It is actually in the magnetosphere of the Earth where most of the substorms occur. The magnetosphere looks like a sizeable magnetic bubble.

The birth of the project

Tracking the process of all the changes of energy mentioned above requires observatories situated in the whole system. So in 2011, THEMIS sent two of its spacecraft. Together with the other NASA spacecraft, they align them in a particular way so that once a year, they line up together. When this happened in 2012, NASA scientists observed a substorm.

The eight spacecraft aligned in a particular way, allowed the scientists to observe the details of the whole journey of the energy and to see how it converts into different types of energy.

In 2014, NASA added a new mission. The Magnetospheric Multiscale, known as MMS, put spacecraft straight into the magnetic reconnection areas on both sides of the Earth – the day one and the night one.  MMS aimed at searching for energy conversion.

Now it is possible to make a complete map of the journey of energy from the sun to Earth. NASA’s ARTEMIS and THEMIS, together with MMS and the other pieces of technology in space, form a global space weather station. This station focuses on observing and exploring the solar energy journey and how it converts into different types of energy when it travels through the area surrounding the Earth.