The Thunder and the Firecracker

Recently, NASA's THEMIS spacecraft detected a phenomenon that many astronomers had suspected; the spacequake. A spacequake happens when the Earth's magnetic field is stretched out by the solar wind - charged particles streaming from the Sun. The magnetic field becomes attenuated, stretching out away from the direction of the solar wind. At some point the field becomes too stretched and snaps back into place, producing quite a bit of energy which goes into the atmosphere and even the Earth's surface. Often spectacular aurora result from a spacequake.

According to the article:

"A spacequake is a temblor in Earth's magnetic field. It is felt most strongly in Earth orbit, but is not exclusive to space. The effects can reach all the way down to the surface of Earth itself.

"Magnetic reverberations have been detected at ground stations all around the globe, much like seismic detectors measure a large earthquake," says THEMIS principal investigator Vassilis Angelopoulos of UCLA.

It's an apt analogy because "the total energy in a spacequake can rival that of a magnitude 5 or 6 earthquake," according to Evgeny Panov of the Space Research Institute in Austria. Panov is first author of a paper reporting the results in the April 2010 issue of Geophysical Research Letters (GRL)."


"According to THEMIS, the jets crash into the geomagnetic field some 30,000 km above Earth's equator. The impact sets off a rebounding process, in which the incoming plasma actually bounces up and down on the reverberating magnetic field. Researchers call it "repetitive flow rebuffing." It's akin to a tennis ball bouncing up and down on a carpeted floor. The first bounce is a big one, followed by bounces of decreasing amplitude as energy is dissipated in the carpet.

"We've long suspected that something like this was happening," says Sibeck. "By observing the process in situ, however, THEMIS has discovered something new and surprising."

The surprise is plasma vortices, huge whirls of magnetized gas as wide as Earth itself, spinning on the verge of the quaking magnetic field.

A THEMIS map of plasma flows during a spacequake. The axes are labeled in Earth radii, so each swirl is about the size of Earth. [larger image] "When plasma jets hit the inner magnetosphere, vortices with opposite sense of rotation appear and reappear on either side of the plasma jet," explains Rumi Nakamura of the Space Research Institute in Austria, a co-author of the study. "We believe the vortices can generate substantial electrical currents in the near-Earth environment."

Acting together, vortices and spacequakes could have a noticeable effect on Earth. The tails of vortices may funnel particles into Earth's atmosphere, sparking auroras and making waves of ionization that disturb radio communications and GPS. By tugging on surface magnetic fields, spacequakes generate currents in the very ground we walk on. Ground current surges can have profound consequences, in extreme cases bringing down power grids over a wide area."

Now, this concept should give one pause, because the effect would likely be more apparent during a an active solar period. A stronger solar wind would equate with more attenuation of the magnetic field, which would equate with stronger and more frequent spacequakes.  What, one might ask, would this do to the Earth's atmosphere? The seas?

When energy is randomized it generally is expressed as heat.


This is actually a rather pedestrian concept; all warm-blooded animals maintain a stable body temperature by flexing of muscles to produce heat. Sugars and other necessary nutrients go into muscle cells, are converted into energy, the muscles flex, and the constant flex and relax of those muscles produces the 98.6* body temperature we humans find so comfortable. A sort of muscle quake warms our bodies.

So what happens with the energy from these spacequakes? Another question that should be asked is do these quakes increase in magnitude or frequency during an active solar period.

The Sun is just coming off a grand maximum, after all and we now know that planetary and solar magnetic fields are interconnected in ways that science could never imagine just a few decades ago. We have magnetic reconnection events, for example. See  this and  this. We know that "changes in the Sun's equatorial rotation rate are synchronized with changes in its orbital motion about the barycentre of the Solar System...this synchronization is indicative of a spin-orbit coupling mechanism operating between the Jovian planets and the Sun" according to Wilson, Carter, and Waite, but we don't know why.

Heinrick Svensmark has postulated -- and laboratory experiments have proven him correct -- that cosmic rays produce clouds in the Earth's atmosphere and that heavy solar wind sweeps those cosmic rays away.   Fewer clouds mean more solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface. One must take this a further step and ask what these spacequakes do to the Earth's atmosphere?  What do these energizing events do to cloud formation? One thing is likely; the charging of the magnetosphere with particles from the solar wind prevents Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR`s) from generating low-level cloud cover (PDF-sorry!) which increases global temperature by lowering the atmospheric albedo (reflectivity). Magnetic events such as this would logically warm the planet.

Back in 2008 solar magnetic fields ripped a huge hole in the Earth's magnetosphere. From a NASA article:

The circumstances were even more surprising. Space physicists have long believed that holes in Earth's magnetosphere open only in response to solar magnetic fields that point south. The great breach of June 2007, however, opened in response to a solar magnetic field that pointed north.

"To the lay person, this may sound like a quibble, but to a space physicist, it is almost seismic," says Sibeck. "When I tell my colleagues, most react with skepticism, as if I'm trying to convince them that the sun rises in the west."

Here is why they can't believe their ears: The solar wind presses against Earth's magnetosphere almost directly above the equator where our planet's magnetic field points north. Suppose a bundle of solar magnetism comes along, and it points north, too. The two fields should reinforce one another, strengthening Earth's magnetic defenses and slamming the door shut on the solar wind. In the language of space physics, a north-pointing solar magnetic field is called a "northern IMF" and it is synonymous with shields up!

"So, you can imagine our surprise when a northern IMF came along and shields went down instead," says Sibeck. "This completely overturns our understanding of things."

A point to ponder; if the north-bound IMF opened this hole in the Earth`s magnetic field, what effect would that have on wind patterns in the northern hemisphere? Would a stream of ionized particles help to energize the Pacific Decadal Oscillation? Part of the reason that the Arctic lost so much sea ice is because of wind patterns, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center;

"Air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean stayed well above average during November, partly because of continued heat release from the ocean to the atmosphere and partly because of a pattern of atmospheric circulation transporting warm air into the region."

And it appears that these warming oscillations are critical to ice cover.  Do events like this drive Global Warming in the northern hemisphere?

Do spacequakes have anything to do with Global Warming?

There certainly seems to be an X factor. The work of Nir Shaviv makes that quite plain.

The serious argument in Global Warming is over the X factor; AGW proponents make the case that increased solar radiation alone does not account for the warming we have witnessed (if the temperature records can be trusted, a point which is salient. and they deduce that a CO2-drive greenhouse effect  is the obvious forcing because it is the only thing they see that is not accounted for. But solar researchers have uncovered a cornucopia of new things under the sun, and it has become clear our understanding of solar physics is woefully inadequate. In fact, solar scientists now consider the Sun to be only part of a larger, solar system wide electromagnetic system. If that is so, how does this influence the Earth's climate?

Can anyone really believe that a concentration of thirty eight molecules out of every one hundred thousand of CO2 gas has driven our sweltering 1* temperature rise during the 20th century? Does it not make more sense to look to the tremendous thermonuclear dynamo in the sky? Do we really believe that the firecracker is greater than the thunder?