October 23, 2019

01.11.09:What Fuels Magnetic Reconnection?

A little publicized mission may have big-time repercussions for the future of energy production. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multi-scale Mission (MMS) has just been given the green light to proceed with spacecraft production. Consisting of a fleet of four hockey puck-shaped spacecraft, MMS will study the area where the Earth’s magnetosphere meets the solar wind. In this realm, dynamic magnetic reconnection events often take place. On the surface of the Sun, these explosive events occur when constricting magnetic fields collide, often releasing thousands of megatons of force. Scheduled to launch in 2014, the magnetosphere of Earth will provide an ideal natural laboratory to study this little known phenomenon. This may ultimately lead to the holy grail in physics and energy production; harness-able fusion energy. Currently, the leading contender in the area of fusion containment is magnetic confinement fusion inside reactors termed tokamaks. The chief problem encountered in these experimental reactors is a phenomenon known as a “sawtooth crash,” or a leakage of hot plasma that occurs during a magnetic reconnection event. Tough to study in the confines of a reactor, MMS will provide a laboratory millions of miles wide to study the physics of magnetic re-connection events. Of course, usable fusion energy, like the 24 hour laptop battery and hydrogen fueled car, always seems to be just “20 years away…” Watch this space and the MMS web page for updates!