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Earth Magnetism_WH Campbell

Earth Magnetism_WH Campbell

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Published by: Cristiana Stefan on Jan 04, 2013
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Astronomical measurements of light polarization have shown that our Milky

Way Galaxy can exhibit magnetic fields of nearly 0.1 gamma. Similar mag-

netic fields have been detected at places in the intergalactic space. Our Sun's

field is thought to extend to a heliospheric boundary at nearly 100 times the

Sun-Earth distance.

Section 3.3 A Space of Quiet Fields


FIGURE 3.15 II~ The boundary of the magnetospheric field pattern can extent from
about 6 to 25 Re toward the Sun, depending on the compression by the solar wind.
Downwind, away from the Sun, the direction of the magnetospheric tail boundary can
stretch far past the moon's orbit (60 Re). Shaded regions represent the inner and outer
radiation (Van Allen) belts where charged particles accumulate.

In the space around the Earth, out to a distance of several Earth radii
(1 Earth radius, Re, = 6371 km or 3959 miles), the main field has approx-
imately the form of the eccentric axis dipole. However, the Earth's field
becomes distorted beyond that distance, primarily because of a strong and
varying assault of charged particles and fields from the Sun, called the so-
lar wind. This solar wind bounds the entire region of space dominated by
the Earth's main field and forces the magnetospheric outer boundary into an
extended tear-drop shape. On the day side, in times of extreme quiet, the sun-
ward boundary of the magnetosphere can extend to 25 Re; but, on average,
that stand-off position is approximately 11 or 12 Re (Figure 3.15). During
major blasts of the solar wind, the sunward boundary can be compressed to
6 Re. The main field distortion at such times at low latitudes can reach 40

The solar wind further restricts the full magnetospheric envelope on the
night side. A long tail of the magnetosphere is blown outward, two or more
times the Moon's orbital distance at 60 Re. This constant deformation of the
magnetosphere is detectable at the magnetic observatories located about the

In the yearly path of the Earth about the Sun, which defines the ecliptic
plane, the tilt of the Earth's axis gives us our seasonal climate changes. The
magnetospheric tail is always extended toward the downwind, antisolar direc-
tion. Thus, from our viewpoint on Earth, the tail appears to shift seasonally
north and south of the geomagnetic equator, opposite to the apparent seasonal


Chapter 3 Sailing the Magnetic Seas in Calm Winds

Sun position. This shift, verified by satellite measurements, can be detected
at the Earth-surface magnetic observatories as an apparent seasonal change in
the night-time field level of about 10 gammas at mid-latitudes.
The route for the arrival of the many charged particles that the Earth en-
counters in space is determined by the Earth's magnetospheric field. That
field also arranges the many special current patterns that attend bursts of
solar-terrestrial activity that we will examine in Chapter 4. In addition, the
Earth is bombarded by very high-energy particles, called galactic cosmic rays,
that travel throughout our Milky Way galaxy. Curiously, during strong solar
winds, the cosmic rays are swept away from the Earth by that wind; scientists
detect a decrease in arriving cosmic rays at such times (Forbush effect).
Principally at the two distances of approximately 1.2 Re to 4.0 Re and 4.5
to 6.0 Re, a great number of solar-terrestrial charged particles organized by
the magnetospheric field gather to form two donut-like girdle patterns about
the Earth, called the inner and outer radiation (Van Allen) belts (Figure 3.15).
Some of these particles drift to much lower altitudes, particularly where the
Earth's main field is weak, toward the South America-South Atlantic Ocean
region (Figure 2.21). Man-made satellites are usually routed to avoid the
potential damage by the concentration of belt particles in that region (Fig-
ure 2.20).

13;41 Conducting Blanket

The Sun's visible light colors range from long-wavelength deep-dark red
through the rainbow spectrum to short-wavelength violet. The shorter the
wavelength of light, the higher the radiation energy. Past the violet colors
of the spectrum is ultraviolet (UV) light, against which we all try to protect
our skins with sunscreen and our eyes with sunglasses. This solar ultraviolet
radiation is strong enough to break apart the nitrogen and oxygen molecules
of our atmosphere into ions and electrons. Air becomes thinner at higher al-
titudes. Far above the Earth, there are too few air molecules to stop much of
the UV radiation. Very close to the Earth a major portion of the UV energy
is used to split oxygen molecules (02) of the air into atoms of oxygen, which
recombine to produce ozone (03) molecules and form a layer about the Earth
that is concentrated near the 25 to 30 km (16 to 19 miles) level. The pres-
ence of man-made chemicals has initiated a depletion of this fragile layer that
protects us from much of the UV radiation.
At higher altitudes, to about 90 km (56 miles), the molecules that have
been broken into charged ions and electrons can recombine quickly because
there are so many nearby particles of opposite charge. From about 90 to
1000 km (56 to 625 miles), there are still enough molecules of nitrogen and

Section 3.4 Conducting Blanket


FIGURE 3.16 I~ A high concentration of electrons in the ionized air forms the
ionosphere. Radiowaves bounce between the ionosphere and the Earth--higher frequency
signals are returned from the higher electron density regions. The electron density values
shown here are for midday, summertime, at mid-latitudes.

oxygen to absorb some UV and be broken into ions and electrons, but too few
molecules to provide a substantial recombination rate. In the lower half of
that region an ionized layer of electron and ions forms (various combinations
of nitrogen and/or oxygen) as a conducting blanket (the ionosphere), which is
profiled by the electron density (Figure 3.16). Gravity holds our atmosphere
near the Earth. Therefore, above 900 km (560 miles), the lighter atoms of
hydrogen and helium dominate over the heavier atoms of nitrogen and oxygen
in this higher, upper-atmosphere composition.
The maximum electron density is usually found to be near 300 km (188
miles); although, the region that can carry strong currents is near 100 km
(63 miles). The reason for this difference is that the electrical conductivity of


Chapter 3 Sailing the Magnetic Seas in Calm Winds

the ionosphere depends on some special features, such as:

1. the suitability of the ions and electrons to recombine (recombination

2. how often the ions and electrons collide (the collision frequency), and

3. the Earth's magnetic field strength and direction in the region.

Of course, the rising and setting of the Sun each day (our source of UV ra-
diation) provides a daily variation in the ionization. However, not all the iono-
sphere goes away at night. Although the 100-km night-time ionization almost
disappears, the collisions of the ions and electrons above 200 km (125 miles)
in altitude are rare enough that some of the ionization slowly decreases un-
til the start of the next day. As we might expect from the changes in Sun
exposure around the Earth, there are latitude and seasonal constraints on the
ionosphere's appearance. For example, summer days at polar locations can be
in full daylight and winter days in full darkness.
One unique feature occurs at the magnetic dip equator ionosphere--where
the Earth's main field near 100 km in altitude is directed horizontally to the
Earth surface. That field direction causes the ionospheric gas conductivity
to become extremely large. Any electric currents arriving in this region are
channeled into a narrow ionospheric current band (called the equatorial elec-
trojet) causing an enhanced field effect at the ground. Another unique feature
happens in the high-latitude ionosphere where auroras occur. Bombarding
particles that produce the auroras (a subject we will explore in Chapter 4)
produce extra local ionization and conductivity so that strong auroral electro-
jet currents flow.

Radiowave signals that are transmitted through the atmosphere can be re-
flected at the ionospheric conducting surfaces (Figure 3.16). The reflection
depends on the radiowave frequency at which the transmitting station sends
the signal and on the special nature of the conductor that is encountered. Our
distant radiowave communications to locations that are not as close as our
local radio stations depend on bouncing the radiowave signals between the
conducting Earth and the conducting ionosphere. In this way, information
can be transmitted to the opposite side of the Earth (see Figure 2.22).

13.51 Quietly Flowing Currents
3.5.1 A Dynamo

To understand the daily ionospheric currents, let us first recall what happens
in a hydroelectric plant that delivers electricity to a town. The water moves a

Section 3.5 Quietly Flowing Currents


paddlewheel connected to a mechanical dynamo. This dynamo is just a large
magnet that produces a strong magnetic field, through which copper wires
are moved by the connected paddlewheel. When an electrical conductor (the
copper wire) is forced through the magnetic field, electric current flows in
the wire (Figure 3.17). This is a result of the requirements of basic physics
for the moving charges (here, free electrons flowing along a copper wire) in
a field. The amount of current depends on the strength of the field from the
dynamo magnet, the velocity with which the wire conductor is moved, and the
conducting properties of that wire. Commercial, fuel-burning electric plants
produce electricity similarly. They just use the fuel-burning engine to turn the
conductors through the field. Of course, as far as the current flow is concerned,
it matters not whether the field is stationary and the conductor moves, or the
conductor is stationary and the field moves.
This is the same principle of physics that causes naturally oscillating fields
to induce electric currents in the conducting Earth. The daily heating and

FIGURE 3.17 I~ A hydroelectric plant uses a water turbine to move conducting wires
through the field of a strong magnet. The current that is created has the direction that a
screw would progress when turned clockwise from the direction of the wire velocity
toward the direction of the magnetic field.


Chapter 3 Sailing the Magnetic Seas in Calm Winds

cooling of the atmosphere of the Earth as it spins on its axis causes a daily
cycle of atmospheric expansion and contraction. Also, there are global winds,
changing with solar activity and season, that occur at the ionospheric altitudes.
Together the two motions force a daily motion on the ionospheric charged
particles (the dynamo conductor) in the Earth's main field (the dynamo mag-
net), causing a current to flow near 100 km (62.5 miles) in altitude, where
the ionospheric conductivity is large. The difference in the sign of the charge
causes the negative electrons to move in one direction and the positive ions
in another. But because they have fewer collisions to impede their forward
direction, the smaller electrons dominate the current flow near the 100-km
level. At much higher altitudes, where collisions are rare, the two motions
cancel out the current. At lower altitudes, there is little or no ionization for
significant conductivity.

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