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FIREBIRD II and NASA Mission Locate Whistling Space Electrons’ Origins

Bringing some of the mysteries of the universe a little closer to home.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Wed Nov 15, 2017 4:18 pm

Scientists have long known that solar-energized particles trapped around the planet are sometimes scattered into Earth’s upper atmosphere where they can contribute to beautiful auroral displays. Yet for decades, no one has known exactly what is responsible for hurling these energetic electrons on their way. Recently, two spacecraft found themselves at just the right places at the right time to witness first hand both the impulsive electron loss and its cause.

New research using data from NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission and FIREBIRD II CubeSat has shown that a common plasma wave in space is likely responsible for the impulsive loss of high-energy electrons into Earth’s atmosphere. Known as whistler mode chorus, these waves are created by fluctuating electric and magnetic fields. The waves have characteristic rising tones — reminiscent of the sounds of chirping birds — and are able to efficiently accelerate electrons. The results have been published in a paper in Geophysical Review Letters.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Wed Nov 15, 2017 4:21 pm

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Credits: Tony Phillips/NASA

Van Allen Belts, shown in green in this illustration, are concentric doughnut-shaped belts filled with charged particles, trapped by Earth’s magnetic field.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Wed Nov 15, 2017 4:24 pm



The Van Allen Probes EMFISIS Waves instruments detected these signals with three orthogonal magnetic antennas (Bu, Bv, Bw) during UTC hour 08 of June 13, 2013. The most prominent signals in this clip are lightning whistlers that decrease in frequency with time.

Some of them are quite intense and it is believed that these whistlers can trigger some of the other rising tones in this example. The rising tones are easily seen in the spectrogram, but you have to listen carefully for them at very high audio frequencies in this clip. That one emission (a whistler) can trigger other emissions (the rising tones) is an example of the complex and non-linear phenomena found in Earth's radiation belts.

 
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Owlscrying
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Unread post Wed Nov 15, 2017 4:26 pm



Multi-flash, multi-hop, multi-path, . . . One thing is certain: These are some wild whistlers! This amazing set of signals was recorded by the Van Allen Probes B spacecraft EMFISIS Waves instrument on September 20, 2016, at about 23:50 UTC. The measurements of three orthogonal magnetic antennas Bu, Bv, and Bw were combined to make the 60 second stereo audio recording.

These signals, called whistlers, are created by lightning discharges in Earth's atmosphere which then propagate back and forth along magnetic field lines with lower frequencies being delayed as they travel through the thin charged gas of space.

The resulting spread in frequency produces a whistling tone with the dispersion related to the quantity of plasma the signal has traversed. In this unusual case, the spacecraft was fairly close to Earth near the magnetic equator, so reflections from the conjugate points in the magnetosphere allowed for rapid echoes to occur. With each bounce the whistler moves to slightly higher altitudes and the corresponding change in magnetic field strength affects the upper frequencies, causing them also to slow down forming so-called "nose" whistlers.

 
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