Researchers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have uncovered new insights into “space waves” that could lead to more precise space-weather forecasts and safer satellite navigation through radiation belts.
Their latest findings, published on May 4, 2023, in the journal Nature Communications, reveal that the Earth’s magnetic tilt towards or away from the sun, which varies on a seasonal and daily basis, can trigger changes in large-wavelength space waves known as Kelvin-Helmholtz waves. These waves occur at the boundary between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic shield and are more prevalent in the spring and fall seasons, while wave activity is low in summer and winter.
As plasma and solar wind from the sun collide with the Earth’s magnetic shield, energy, mass, and momentum are transferred to the shield, resulting in the formation of space waves. The fast-moving solar wind cannot penetrate the magnetic shield, causing it to move around the magnetosphere and create Kelvin-Helmholtz waves with peaks as high as 15,000 kilometers and lengths up to 40,000 kilometers.
Astronaut safety and satellite communication
Researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have discovered that variations in the Earth’s magnetic tilt towards or away from the sun can trigger changes in large-wavelength space waves, known as Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, which have important implications for space weather and satellite communication. Solar wind plasma particles can travel through these waves and enter the magnetosphere, causing variations in the radiation belt and impacting astronaut safety and communication systems. In order to improve our ability to forecast and warn of space weather events, it is important to understand the properties and mechanisms behind these waves.
The Russell-McPherron effect, which explains the seasonal variation of geomagnetic activities, is not the only explanation for these changes. Constellations of spacecraft could help provide advanced warnings of space weather and its impact on rocket launches and electrical power grids. The research article, “Seasonal and Diurnal Variations of Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability at Terrestrial Magnetopause,” was authored by researchers from Embry-Riddle and the University of New Hampshire and Andrews University.