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Space Scientists Discover the Origins of the Plasmoids

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 8:08 am EDT

Plasmoids, balls of plasma, energy and magnetic field lines, are thought to be the cause of natural phenomenon such as ball lightning and magnetic bubbles; however, their origin remains a mystery. Chinese scientists, writing in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics, have used the European Space Agency’s Cluster spacecraft to detect and describe the formation of plasmoids.

Magnetic field lines in the Earth’s day side magnetic field can break and be swept to the planet’s night side by solar winds. Here they connect to the Magnetotail, the long, trailing limb of the earth's magnetosphere, where they cause magnetic substorms.

It is during these substorms that plasma trapped in the magnetotail is sent earthwards, causing the magnetotail current sheet, the region where magnetic field lines from the Earth’s North and South Poles come together, to thin, which creates plasmoids.

Using Cluster, the authors observed a number of small-scale plasmoids in the magnetotail as well as detecting, for the first time, three small plasmoids formed during a single magnetic substorm.

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