Capturing Earth

Published: Thursday 15 January 1998

nasa has announced the launch of two satellites -- one in 2002 and another in 2004 -- to map the plasma that girdles the Earth, trapped by the magnetosphere. With their binocular vision scientists hope to get the first three dimensional pictures of the Earth's magnetic weather.

Scientists say that such pictures could provide early warning of electrical storms that can knock out satellites and power grids on the ground. Each satellite will image the Earth's magnetosphere, the boundary between the atmosphere and interplanetary space. This region is filled with a hydrogen and oxygen plasma that is trapped by the Earth's magnetic field. With their three dimensional pictures of the plasma, scientists will be able to infer the magnetic weather patterns that constrain it. They aim to make a movie of the Earth's magnetic fields as they are battered by solar winds. The whole project will cost about us $18 million.

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