Beyond Earth’s atmosphere are swirling clouds of energized particles—ions and electrons—that emanate from the sun. This “solar wind” buffets the magnetosphere, the magnetic force field that surrounds Earth.
In much the same way winds and storms create weather in our atmosphere, strong gusts of solar wind penetrating the magnetosphere can generate magnetic storms with powerful electric currents that can impact our lives.
A new study by the NASA THEMIS mission team—led by Vassilis Angelopoulos, a UCLA professor of space physics—is the first to show that such storms can originate much closer to Earth than previously thought, overlapping with the orbits of critical weather, communications and GPS satellites. The team’s findings are published in the journal Nature Physics.