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  • richardmitnick 8:41 am on May 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Earth has its own magnetic field., , Lancaster University, , Magnetosphere, , Reports that the magnetic north pole has started moving swiftly at 50km (31 miles) per year   

    From Lancaster University via EarthSky: “Magnetic north is shifting fast. What’ll happen to the northern lights?” 


    From Lancaster University




    May 22, 2019
    Nathan Case,
    Lancaster University

    As magnetic north shifts increasingly away from the geologic north pole – towards Siberia – studies suggest the northern lights could move with it.

    Northern lights over Lake Lappajärvi in Finland. Image via Santeri Viinamäki.

    Like most planets in our solar system, the Earth has its own magnetic field. Thanks to its largely molten iron core, our planet is in fact a bit like a bar magnet.


    It has a north and south magnetic pole, separate from the geographic poles, with a field connecting the two. This field protects our planet from radiation and is responsible for creating the northern and southern lights – spectacular events that are only visible near the magnetic poles.

    However, with reports that the magnetic north pole has started moving swiftly at 50km (31 miles) per year – and may soon be over Siberia – it has long been unclear whether the northern lights will move too. Now a new study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, has come up with an answer.

    Our planetary magnetic field has many advantages. For over 2,000 years, travellers have been able to use it to navigate across the globe. Some animals even seem to be able to find their way thanks to the magnetic field. But, more importantly than that, our geomagnetic field helps protect all life on Earth.

    Earth’s magnetic field extends hundreds of thousands of kilometers out from the center of our planet – stretching right out into interplanetary space, forming what scientists call a “magnetosphere”.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    This magnetosphere helps to deflect solar radiation and cosmic rays, preventing the destruction of our atmosphere. This protective magnetic bubble isn’t perfect though, and some solar matter and energy can transfer into our magnetosphere. As it is then funneled into the poles by the field, it results in the spectacular displays of the northern lights.

    A wandering pole

    Since Earth’s magnetic field is created by its moving, molten iron core, its poles aren’t stationary and they wander independently of one another. In fact, since its first formal discovery in 1831, the north magnetic pole has travelled over 1,240 miles (2,000 km) from the Boothia Peninsula in the far north of Canada to high in the Arctic Sea. This wandering has generally been quite slow, around 9km (6 mi) a year, allowing scientists to easily keep track of its position. But since the turn of the century, this speed has increased to 30 miles (50 km) a year. The south magnetic pole is also moving, though at a much slower rate (6-9 miles, or 10-15 km a year).

    This rapid wandering of the north magnetic pole has caused some problems for scientists and navigators alike. Computer models of where the north magnetic pole might be in the future have become seriously outdated, making accurate compass-based navigation difficult. Although GPS does work, it can sometimes be unreliable in the polar regions. In fact, the pole is moving so quickly that scientists responsible for mapping the Earth’s magnetic field were recently forced to update their model much earlier than expected.

    Will the aurora move?

    The aurora generally form in an oval about the magnetic poles, and so if those poles move, it stands to reason that the aurora might too. With predictions suggesting that the north pole will soon be approaching northern Siberia, what effect might that have on the aurora?

    The northern lights are currently mostly visible from northern Europe, Canada and the northern U.S. If, however, they shifted north, across the geographic pole, following the north magnetic pole, then that could well change. Instead, the northern lights would become more visible from Siberia and northern Russia and less visible from the much more densely populated U.S./Canadian border.

    Fortunately, for those aurora hunters in the northern hemisphere, it seems as though this might not actually be the case. A recent study made a computer model of the aurora and the Earth’s magnetic poles based on data dating back to 1965. It showed that rather than following the magnetic poles, the aurora follows the “geomagnetic poles” instead. There’s only a small difference between these two types of poles – but it’s an important one.

    Magnetic versus geomagnetic poles. Image via Wikipedia.

    The magnetic poles are the points on the Earth’s surface where a compass needle points downwards or upwards, vertically. They aren’t necessarily connected and drawing a line between these points, through the Earth, would not necessarily cross its center. Therefore, to make better models over time, scientists assume that the Earth is like a bar magnet at its center, creating poles that are exactly opposite each other – “antipodal”. This means that if we drew a line between these points, the line would cross directly through the Earth’s center. At the points where that line crosses the Earth’s surface, we have the geomagnetic poles.

    Positions of the north magnetic pole (red) and the geomagnetic pole (blue) between 1900 and 2020. Image via British Geological Survey.

    The geomagnetic poles are a kind of reliable, averaged out version of the magnetic poles, which move erratically all the time. Because of that, it turns out they aren’t moving anywhere near as fast as the magnetic north pole is. And since the aurora seems to follow the more averaged version of the magnetic field, it means that the northern lights aren’t moving that fast either. It seems as though the aurora are staying where they are – at least for now.

    We already know that the magnetic pole moves. Both poles have wandered ever since the Earth existed. In fact, the poles even flip over, with north becoming south and south becoming north. These magnetic reversals have occurred throughout history, every 450,000 years or so on average. The last reversal occurred 780,000 years ago meaning we could be due for a reversal soon.

    So rest assured that a wandering pole, even a fast one, shouldn’t cause too many problems – except for those scientists whose job it is to model it.

    Bottom line: Studies suggest that the northern lights could move as the Earth’s magnetic north pole heads towards Siberia.

    See the full article here .


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    Lancaster University (legally the University of Lancaster) is a collegiate public research university in Lancaster, Lancashire, England. The university was established by Royal Charter in 1964, one of several new universities created in the 1960s.

    The university was initially based in St Leonard’s Gate in the city centre, before moving in 1968 to a purpose-built 300 acres (120 ha) campus at Bailrigg, 4 km (2.5 mi) to the south. The campus buildings are arranged around a central walkway known as the Spine, which is connected to a central plaza, named Alexandra Square in honour of its first chancellor, Princess Alexandra.

    Lancaster is one of only six collegiate universities in the UK; the colleges are weakly autonomous. The eight undergraduate colleges are named after places in the historic county of Lancashire, and each have their own campus residence blocks, common rooms, administration staff and bar.

    Lancaster is ranked in the top ten in all three national league tables, and received a Gold rating in the Government’s inaugural (2017) Teaching Excellence Framework. In 2018 it was awarded University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, and achieved its highest ever national ranking of 6th place within the guide’s national table. The annual income of the institution for 2016–17 was £267.0 million of which £37.7 million was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £268.7 million.

  • richardmitnick 3:09 pm on January 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Magnetosphere, The Magnetic Field Is Shifting. The Poles May Flip. This Could Get Bad, UNDARK   

    From UNDARK: “The Magnetic Field Is Shifting. The Poles May Flip. This Could Get Bad” Is this why Physics is Fun? 



    Alanna Mitchell

    The shield that protects the Earth from solar radiation is under attack from within. We can’t prevent it, but we ought to prepare.

    One day in 1905, the French geophysicist Bernard Brunhes brought back to his lab some rocks he’d unearthed from a freshly cut road near the village of Pont Farin. When he analyzed their magnetic properties, he was astonished at what they showed: Millions of years ago, the Earth’s magnetic poles had been on the opposite sides of the planet. North was south and south was north. The discovery spoke of planetary anarchy. Scientists had no way to explain it.

    Today, we know that the poles have changed places hundreds of times, most recently 780,000 years ago. (Sometimes, the poles try to reverse positions but then snap back into place, in what is called an excursion. The last time was about 40,000 years ago.) We also know that when they flip next time, the consequences for the electrical and electronic infrastructure that runs modern civilization will be dire. The question is when that will happen.

    In the past few decades, geophysicists have tried to answer that question through satellite imagery and math. They have figured out how to peer deep inside the Earth, to the edge of the molten, metallic core where the magnetic field is continually being generated. It turns out that the dipole — the orderly two-pole magnetic field our compasses respond to — is under attack from within.

    The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio, which began reporting in 2014, show that a battle is raging at the edge of the core.


    Like factions planning a coup, swirling clusters of molten iron and nickel are gathering strength and draining energy from the dipole. The north magnetic pole is on the run, a sign of enhanced turbulence and unpredictability. A cabal in the Southern Hemisphere has already gained the upper hand over about a fifth of the Earth’s surface. A revolution is shaping up.

    If these magnetic blocs gain enough strength and weaken the dipole even more, they will force the north and south poles to switch places as they strive to regain supremacy. Scientists can’t say for sure that is happening now — the dipole could beat back the interlopers. But they can say that the phenomenon is intensifying and that they can’t rule out the possibility that a reversal is beginning.

    It’s time to wake up to the dangers and start preparing.

    This animation shows the movement of the north magnetic pole at 10-year intervals from 1970 to 2020. The red and blue lines indicate “declination,” the difference between magnetic north and true north depending on where one is standing; on the green line, a compass would point to true north. Visual by NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

    The Earth’s magnetic field protects our planet from dangerous solar and cosmic rays, like a giant shield.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    As the poles switch places (or try to), that shield is weakened; scientists estimate that it could waste away to as little as a tenth of its usual force. The shield could be compromised for centuries while the poles move, allowing malevolent radiation closer to the surface of the planet for that whole time. Already, changes within the Earth have weakened the field over the South Atlantic so much that satellites exposed to the resulting radiation have experienced memory failure.

    That radiation isn’t hitting the surface yet. But at some point, when the magnetic field has dwindled enough, it could be a different story. Daniel Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, one of the world’s experts on how cosmic radiation affects the Earth, fears that parts of the planet will become uninhabitable during a reversal. The dangers: devastating streams of particles from the sun, galactic cosmic rays, and enhanced ultraviolet B rays from a radiation-damaged ozone layer, to name just a few of the invisible forces that could harm or kill living creatures.

    How bad could it be? Scientists have never established a link between previous pole reversals and catastrophes like mass extinctions. But the world of today is not the world of 780,000 years ago, when the poles last reversed, or even 40,000 years ago, when they tried to. Today, there are nearly 7.6 billion people on Earth, twice as many as in 1970. We have drastically changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and the ocean with our activities, impairing the life support system of the planet. Humans have built huge cities, industries and networks of roads, slicing up access to safer living spaces for many other creatures. We have pushed perhaps a third of all known species toward extinction and have imperiled the habitats of many more. Add cosmic and ultraviolet radiation to this mix, and the consequences for life on Earth could be ruinous.

    And the perils are not just biological. The vast cyber-electric cocoon that has become the central processing system of modern civilization is in grave danger. Solar energetic particles can rip through the sensitive miniature electronics of the growing number of satellites circling the Earth, badly damaging them. The satellite timing systems that govern electric grids would be likely to fail. The grid’s transformers could be torched en masse. Because grids are so tightly coupled with each other, failure would race across the globe, causing a domino run of blackouts that could last for decades.

    In this animation, the blue lines indicate a weaker magnetic field, the red lines a stronger one, and the green line the boundary between them, at 10-year intervals from 1910 to 2020. The field is weakening over South America, and the red area over North America is losing strength. Visual by NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

    No lights. No computers. No cellphones. Even flushing a toilet or filling a car’s gas tank would be impossible. And that’s just for starters.

    But these dangers are rarely considered by those whose job it is to protect the electronic pulse of civilization. More satellites are being put into orbit with more highly miniaturized (and therefore more vulnerable) electronics. The electrical grid becomes more interconnected every day, despite the greater risks from solar storms.

    One of the best ways of protecting satellites and grids from space weather is to predict precisely where the most damaging force will hit. Operators could temporarily shut down a satellite or disconnect part of the grid. But progress on learning how to track damaging space weather has not kept pace with the exponential increase in technologies that could be damaged by it. And private satellite operators aren’t collating and sharing information about how their electronics are withstanding space radiation, a practice that could help everyone protect their gear.

    We have blithely built our civilization’s critical infrastructure during a time when the planet’s magnetic field was relatively strong, not accounting for the field’s bent for anarchy. Not only is the field turbulent and ungovernable, but, at this point, it is unpredictable. It will have its way with us, no matter what we do. Our task is to figure out how to make it hurt as little as possible.

    See the full article here .

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    Editorial Mission

    The name Undark arises from a murky, century-old mingling of science and commerce — one that resulted in a radium-based industrial and consumer product, called Undark, that was both awe-inspiring and, as scientists would only later prove, toxic and deadly. We appropriate the name as a signal to readers that our magazine will explore science not just as a “gee-whiz” phenomenon, but as a frequently wondrous, sometimes contentious, and occasionally troubling byproduct of human culture.

    As such, the intersection of science and society — the place where science is articulated in our politics and our economics; or where it is made potent and real in our everyday lives — is a fundamental part of our mission at Undark. As journalists, we recognize that science can often be politically, economically and ethically fraught, even as it captures the imagination and showcases the astonishing scope of human endeavor. Undark will therefore aim to explore science in both light and shadow, and to bring that exploration to a broad, international audience.

    Undark is not interested in “science communication” or related euphemisms, but in true journalistic coverage of the sciences.

  • richardmitnick 9:01 am on October 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Magnetosphere, ,   

    From UK Space Agency: “Initial £3 million awarded for UK leadership of new space science mission SMILE” 

    UK Space Agency

    UK Space Agency

    30 October 2017
    UK Space Agency and Jo Johnson MP

    UK teams will lead an international solar-terrestrial and space weather mission, taking on the development of a major science instrument thanks to funding from the UK Space Agency.

    Coronal mass ejections sometimes reach out in the direction of Earth. Credit: ESA

    The £3 million will support academics working on SMILE (the Solar wind Magnetosphere Ionosphere Link Explorer), a European Space Agency (ESA) science mission, being delivered jointly with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and due to launch in 2021. SMILE will address fundamental gaps in knowledge of the solar-terrestrial relationship by providing, for the first time ever, global imaging of the Earth’s magnetosphere and its dynamic response to solar wind – charged particles streaming from the Sun.

    ESA SMILE satellite

    The magnetosphere is a vast region around our planet that protects us from solar wind and cosmic particle radiation.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    The Earth’s magnetosphere is the strongest of all the rocky planets in our solar system and its protective role is thought to have played a key role in the Earth’s habitability. SMILE will provide a step change in understanding its behaviour, and will serve a broad range of research communities in which the UK is world leading, including solar, fundamental physics, heliophysics, and planetary sciences.

    SMILE will also provide crucial improvements to the modelling of space weather, which is recognised in the Government’s National Risk Register as a key disruptive threat to UK national technological infrastructure.

    Science Minister, Jo Johnson, said:

    “Satellites, power grids and communications networks are integral to our modern lives and through this funding, we are ensuring UK academics continue to lead international research in solar-terrestrial science and space weather. This will help us gain a greater understanding of its causes and behaviour – helping us to better prepare and protect our vital infrastructure from its effects.

    “SMILE is a prime example of scientific innovation underpinning the broader economy with real-world applications, a key foundation of our Industrial Strategy.”

    The UK Space Agency’s £3 million investment package supports three UK academic groups for the next two years, and is planned to be extended to support the mission throughout its development. It will deliver the overall scientific leadership role with Prof Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, from the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, overseeing the European consortium, and the design and build of the mission’s most innovative science instrument, the SXI (Soft X-ray Imager), led by Dr Steven Sembay, from the University of Leicester.

    Prof Andrew Holland, of the Open University, will also manage the development of the SXI detectors from Teledyne e2v Ltd, a world renowned UK-based provider of cutting edge space technology, which has a separate ESA contract to provide the SXI detectors worth €1.5 million.

    Thales Alenia Space UK (TAS UK) is also bidding for a major role in the provision of the spacecraft’s Payload Module, and has been awarded one of three competitive studies funded by ESA to lead the design definition of this hardware.

    The UK Space Agency funded academic roles maximise UK science return by combining privileged access to SMILE science data with intimate instrument knowledge. SMILE builds on a very productive legacy of academic collaboration between the UK and China, and will act as a further high profile pillar of cooperation. The UK roles demonstrate our ongoing international leadership and engagement with world-class science and research.

    Prof Graziella Branduardi-Raymont, mission Co-Principal Investigator, said:

    “SMILE is a most innovative space mission dedicated to study the impact of the solar wind on the Earth’s magnetic environment. It will explore scientifically what drives space weather and return knowledge that will eventually lead to mitigating its effects.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:47 pm on December 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Epsilon-2, , Magnetosphere,   

    From NASA SpaceFlight: “Epsilon-2 rocket set to launch Japanese ERG mission” 

    NASA Spaceflight

    NASA Spaceflight

    December 19, 2016
    William Graham

    Japan’s Epsilon rocket will make its second flight Tuesday, tasked with orbiting JAXA’s ERG satellite to study Earth’s radiation belts. Liftoff from the Uchinoura Space Centre is scheduled for 20:00 local time (11:00 UTC), the opening of an hour-long launch window.

    Epsilon-2 Mission:

    The Exploration of Energisation and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) mission will be operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), studying Earth’s magnetosphere.


    Also known as SPRINT-B, ERG is a 365-kilogram (805 lb) satellite based on JAXA’s SPRINT bus, which was demonstrated by 2013’s Hisaki – or SPRINT-A – mission. The spacecraft measures 1.5 by 1.5 by 2.7 meters (4.9 x 4.9 x 8.9 feet) in its launch configuration.

    Once in orbit, ERG will deploy its instrument booms and solar arrays. With a span of 6.0 meters (19.7 feet) along the satellite’s x-axis and 5.2 m (17.1 ft) meters along its y-axis, the solar panels will generate over 700 watts of power for the spacecraft’s systems and instruments.

    Following initial operation and testing, ERG is expected to operate for at least a year.

    The ERG satellite carries instruments dedicated to the study of plasma, particles, waves and fields in Earth’s radiation belts.

    Earth’s radiation belts were discovered by James Van Allen’s experiments aboard the first US satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958 although their existence had previously been theorized by other scientists.


    As a result, the belts are known as the Van Allen belts.

    Earth has two permanent radiation belts, the inner and outer Van Allen belts, although NASA’s Van Allen Probes, or Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP), which were launched in August 2012, showed that a third belt can form and dissipate.

    RBSP. http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/missions-projects/quick-facts-rbsp/

    ERG will join NASA’s two Van Allen Probes and three earlier Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms (THEMIS) spacecraft in making in-situ observations of the Van Allen belts. These will be joined by the UA Air Force Research Laboratory’s DSX satellite, currently scheduled for launch aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket next year.

    ERG’s Plasma and Particle Experiment (PPE) instrument suite consists of electron and ion mass analyzers. The Low Energy Particle Experiments – Electron Analyser (LEP-e), Medium Energy Particle Experiments – Electron Analyser (MEP-e), High Energy Electron Experiments (HEP) and Extremely High Energy Electron Experiments (XEP) instruments will study electrons at increasing energies between 10 electronvolts and 20 megaelectronvolts.

    Low Energy Particle Experiments – Ion Mass Analyser (LEP-i) and Medium Energy Particle Experiments – Ion Mass Analyser (MEP-i) are mass spectrometers which will be used to study the different types of ions present in ERG’s environment.

    The Plasma Wave Experiment (PWE) will measure the Earth’s electric and magnetic fields as the satellite passes through them, up to frequencies of 10 megahertz and 100 kilohertz respectively.

    This will be complimented by the Software-Type Wave Particle Interaction Analyser (S-WPIA), software aboard ERG’s computer systems, will attempt to quantify energy transferred between waves and electrons through the spacecraft’s observations of plasma waves and particles.

    ERG will launch atop JAXA’s solid-fuelled Epsilon rocket, which made its first flight in September 2013 and has not flown since.

    A replacement for the earlier M-V rocket, which retired in September 2006, Epsilon is designed to provide a ride to orbit for Japan’s smaller satellites. Epsilon uses an SRB-A3 motor – used as a strap-on booster on the larger H-IIA and H-IIB rockets – as its first stage with upper stages derived from the M-V.

    Epsilon launches from the Uchinoura – formerly Kagoshima – Space Centre, using the same launch pad from which the M-V flew.

    Also used by earlier members of the Mu family of rockets – of which the M-V was the final member – the complex was originally constructed in the 1960s.

    It consists of an assembly tower with the rocket mounted upon a movable launcher platform which is rotated into position ahead of launch. This was originally built as a rail launcher for the Mu series, however a pedestal has been added for Epsilon with the former support structure for the rail serving as an umbilical tower.

    Tuesday’s launch will be the first flight of the operational or “Enhanced Epsilon” configuration, introducing improvements to the upper stages over those used on the maiden flight.

    The vehicle has been described as “Epsilon-2”, however it is presently unclear whether this name refers to the enhanced configuration, or to Tuesday’s launch being Epsilon’s second flight.

    Epsilon’s launch will begin with first stage ignition and liftoff, when the countdown reaches zero. The rocket will fly in a south-easterly direction, along an azimuth of 100 degrees. Its first stage will burn for 109 seconds, accelerating the vehicle to a velocity of 2.5 kilometers per second (5,600 mph). At burnout, Epsilon will be at an altitude of 71 kilometers (44 miles, 38 nautical miles) and 75 kilometers (47 miles, 40 nautical miles) downrange.

    After the end of the first stage burn, Epsilon will enter a coast phase as it ascends into space. Around 41 seconds after burnout, at an altitude of 115 kilometers (71.5 miles, 62.1 nautical miles), the payload fairing will separate from the nose of the rocket. Eleven seconds later the spent first stage will be jettisoned.

    Epsilon-2 has an M-35 second stage, in place of the M-34c used on the maiden flight. The new stage is larger than its predecessor and has a fixed nozzle instead of the extendible nozzle used on the M-34c. The M-35 generates 445 kilonewtons of thrust, an increase from the 327 kilonewtons generated by the M-34c, and burns for fifteen seconds longer.

    The second stage will ignite four seconds after first stage separation, burning for two minutes and eight seconds.

    A second coast phase will take place between second stage burnout and third stage ignition. One minute and forty-five seconds after burning out, the second stage will separation, with the third stage igniting four seconds later. During the coast phase the third stage will be spun-up; spin-stabilisation is used to help it maintain attitude during its burn.

    For Tuesday’s launch the third stage has also been upgraded, with Epsilon-2 using a KM-V2c instead of the KM-V2b that flew on the 2013 launch. This uses a fixed nozzle instead of an extendible one, but has no significant difference in performance. The third stage will burn for about 89 seconds.

    Epsilon can fly with a liquid-fuelled fourth stage, the Compact Liquid Propulsion System (CLPS), which was used on its first launch. This is not required for Tuesday’s launch, so instead the rocket is flying in its all-solid three-stage configuration for the first time.

    Spacecraft separation is scheduled for thirteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds after liftoff; five minutes and sixteen seconds after third stage burnout.

    Tuesday’s launch is targeting an elliptical orbit with a perigee – the point closest to Earth – of 219 kilometers (136 miles, 118 nautical miles) and an apogee – or highest point – of 33,200 kilometers (20,600 miles, 17,900 nautical miles).

    The orbit will have inclination of 31.4 degrees to the equator, with the satellite taking about 580 minutes – or 9.7 hours – to complete one revolution.

    Tuesday’s launch is Japan’s fourth and last of 2016, following H-IIA missions in February and November which deployed the Hitomi observatory and the Himawari 9 weather satellite – and an H-IIB launch earlier this month with the Kounotori 6 spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station.

    Japan’s next launch, currently scheduled for 11 January, will be an experimental flight which aims to use a modified SS-520 sounding rocket to orbit a single three-unit CubeSat. An H-IIA launch carrying the DSN-2 communications satellite is also scheduled for January.

    The next Epsilon launch will carry the ASNARO-2 experimental radar imaging satellite. This is expected to occur during Japan’s 2017 financial year, which begins on 1 April.

    ASNARO-1 Satellite. http://spaceflight101.com/spacecraft/asnaro-1/

    (Images via JAXA)

    See the full article here .

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    NASASpaceFlight.com, now in its eighth year of operations, is already the leading online news resource for everyone interested in space flight specific news, supplying our readership with the latest news, around the clock, with editors covering all the leading space faring nations.

    Breaking more exclusive space flight related news stories than any other site in its field, NASASpaceFlight.com is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry, which in turn is reflected in the many thousands of space industry visitors to the site, ranging from NASA to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Space Alliance and commercial space flight arena.

    With a monthly readership of 500,000 visitors and growing, the site’s expansion has already seen articles being referenced and linked by major news networks such as MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Popular Science, but to name a few.

  • richardmitnick 11:00 am on March 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Magnetosphere   

    From Eos: “Great Mysteries of the Earth’s Magnetotail” 

    Eos news bloc


    21 March 2016
    Mikhail I. Sitnov, Viacheslav G. Merkin, and Joachim Raeder

    Dipolarization fronts (DFs), bursty bulk flows (BBFs), flux transfer events (FTEs), and Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI) in a high-resolution simulation of an idealized substorm. The simulation was performed using the Lyon-Fedder-Mobarry global magnetosphere model. Credit: Viacheslav G. Merkin

    Charged particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field form its plasma environment, the magnetosphere. The solar wind, the flow of plasma emanating from our star, stretches the magnetosphere on the nightside—the magnetotail—away from the Sun. Other planets also form magnetotails, and in the course of their interaction with the solar wind they accumulate energy and then release it explosively. Substorms are the most violent examples of such explosive processes, with their impressive manifestation in auroral brightening, and they have long been associated with the onset of magnetic reconnection.

    Magnetic reconnection—ubiquitous throughout the universe—is the poorly understood process that breaks and reconnects oppositely directed magnetic field lines and converts magnetic field energy to plasma kinetic and thermal energy. The mechanisms and driving forces behind magnetic reconnection, particularly in the magnetotail, have remained controversial for several decades because of the fundamental physical complexity and limitations of observations.

    Through various observations NASA established a close relationship between magnetic reconnection and other key signatures of the magnetotail activity, such as dipolarization fronts (DFs; thin sheets of electrical current associated with coherently structured disturbances) and bursty bulk flows (BBFs; brief high-speed flows in the plasma sheet). These observations were conducted by the [ASU]Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) and Geotail missions, as well as the European Space Agency’s Cluster and other missions.

    ASU THEMIS on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter
    ASU THEMIS on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter

    NASA/Mars Odyssey Spacecraft
    NASA/Mars Odyssey Spacecraft



    However, major fundamental questions remain, including the preonset configuration and the stability of the magnetotail, the role of DFs in driven versus spontaneous reconnection onset scenarios, the role of ideal magnetohydrodynamic instabilities resulting in buoyancy and flapping plasma motions, and the general properties of DFs and BBFs throughout the tail.

    These observational and theoretical challenges, together with the launch of NASA’s dedicated reconnection Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, motivated us to convene a workshop on magnetotail reconnection onset and dipolarization fronts.


    The goal was to gather scientists with diverse views and approaches to these topics and to have an open forum with ample opportunity for discussions.

    To provide a broader context for the primary topics of the workshop, we also invited presentations discussing similar processes at the magnetopause, in the solar corona, and in laboratory experiments, leading to a balanced mix of theoretical, simulation, and observational presentations.

    Artistic rendition of the Earth’s magnetopause. No image credit

    Summaries of the presentations are available in the online supplement.

    The lack of sufficient observations was a permeating theme throughout the workshop. Even with the five THEMIS spacecraft distributed throughout the magnetotail, we can barely capture the spatial and temporal complexity of these processes.

    Thus, existing data are mostly insufficient to provide stringent constraints on models, which would require multiscale spatially distributed measurements. These could be provided, for example, by a constellation-class mission combining observations on different scales and involving more satellites than the present missions. However, even with more data, a complete understanding will also require major improvements in the physical realism and resolution of current global and regional models.

    Forty-eight scientists attended the workshop (seven remotely), and international participants came from Sweden, Austria, Russia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and China. We received an overwhelmingly positive response, and we plan to repeat the workshop in the fall of 2016. In the interim, we will be engaged in discussions with the workshop participants to refine the topics, scope, and science questions, as well as logistical items such as the workshop location and time.

    —Mikhail I. Sitnov and Viacheslav G. Merkin, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.; email: mikhail.sitnov@jhuapl.edu; and Joachim Raeder, Space Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham

    See the full article here .

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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 1:14 pm on March 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Magnetosphere,   

    From Eos: “Which Geodynamo Models Will Work Best on Next-Gen Computers?” 

    Eos news bloc


    11 March 2016
    Terri Cook

    Magnetic field in a geodynamo simulation, created by Hiroaki Matsui using Calypso code
    Magnetic field in a geodynamo simulation, created by Hiroaki Matsui using Calypso code

    Scientists have long sought to understand the origin and development of Earth’s geomagnetic field, which is continually generated by convection in the Earth’s conductive liquid outer core. Numerical modeling, so-called geodynamo simulations, has played an important role in this quest, but the extremely high resolution required for these models prevents current versions from replicating realistic, Earth-like conditions. As a result, fundamental questions about the outer core’s dynamics are left unanswered.

    Despite the need for more efficient computation, most current geodynamo models incorporate computing structures that can hinder the parallel processing necessary to achieve this. To evaluate which numerical models will most effectively operate on the next generation of “petascale” supercomputers, Matsui et al. ran identical tests of 15 numerical geomagnetic models, then compared their performance and accuracy to two standard benchmarks.

    They found that models using two- or three-dimensional parallel processing are capable of running efficiently on 16,384 processor cores—the maximum number available in the Texas Advanced Computing Center’s Stampede, one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

    Texas Stampede Supercomputer

    The authors further extrapolated that methods simulating the expansion of spherical harmonics—the mathematical equations describing functions on a sphere’s surface—combined with two-dimensional parallel processing will offer the best available tools for modeling the Earth’s magnetic field during simulations using up to 107 processor cores.

    According to the researchers, future work is needed to clarify several outstanding points, including determining which methods of variable time stepping are most efficient and exact and how accurately models will be able to simulate the turbulent flow presumed to occur in the outer core. Solving such challenges should greatly improve simulations of Earth’s magnetic field, as well as those of other planets and stars. (Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, doi:10.1002/2015GC006159, 2016)

    See the full article here .

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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

  • richardmitnick 8:40 pm on September 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Magnetosphere,   

    From Rice: “Rice lands grant to explore exoplanet magnetic fields” 

    Rice U bloc

    Rice University

    September 14, 2015
    Mike Williams

    Scientists at Rice University will lead a study of distant solar systems to see if their planets have magnetic fields similar to the one illustrated here, which protects Earth from energetic charged particles emitted by the sun. Courtesy of NASA

    Members of the Rice Space Institute’s Laboratory for Space and Astrophysical Plasmas have won a $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) award to investigate the magnetic interactions between stars and their planets.

    The goal of Rice University space scientists and astronomers will be to use well-understood processes in our own solar system to help narrow the search for potentially habitable planets among the 200 billion estimated to exist in the Milky Way galaxy.

    The researchers will rely on sophisticated computational models, many developed at Rice, to apply what they’ve learned about sun-Earth interactions to potentially habitable planets elsewhere. They also will calculate the strength of expected radio signals from such magnetically endowed exoplanets — planets that orbit a star other than the sun.

    “We’re trying to explore how the knowledge we have gained over 50 years of space research focused on our own solar system can lend itself to this new regime,” said David Alexander, a Rice professor of physics and astronomy, director of the Rice Space Institute and principal investigator for the project.

    “This is exploratory,” he said. “We don’t know what the answers are going to be. But one thing we are targeting is whether we can determine and ultimately observe signatures of the exoplanets’ magnetic fields.”

    Earth’s magnetic field shields it from the sun’s constant stream of energetic charged particles, known as the solar wind. “Earth would not be so hospitable a planet if it weren’t for its magnetic field,” Alexander said. “The field protects us from the sun’s particle radiation, which is composed primarily of fast-moving protons and electrons.”

    Interaction between the magnetic fields of stars and planets generates a wide variety of radio emissions from the planets’ magnetospheres. The Rice team plans to calculate the expected emissions from these interactions for a wide range of star-planet systems. “This is nontrivial, as no star is really exactly identical to the sun, nor planet exactly identical to Earth, but we hope that by allowing for the differences in existing simulations, new knowledge can be gained,” he said. “We want to help identify systems where we think the activity level of the star and the expected magnetic field strength of the planet is a combination that would provide a safe harbor for life.”

    He said the planetary radio emissions will most likely be too weak to detect with current systems, but the techniques they develop will prepare scientists to monitor emissions from exoplanets with the more sophisticated radio telescopes to come. “I think we’ll learn some new science about our own solar system in the process,” Alexander said.

    He noted the project is a natural fit for the nation’s first space science program, founded at Rice in 1963. “We have a huge heritage in understanding how the sun interacts with planets in the solar system. It was part of the very first space physics department to understand how Earth responds to energy from the sun.”

    The multiyear grant is part of the NSF’s Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education — or INSPIRE — program, which funds proposals for transformative research whose potential advances lie outside the scope of a single program or discipline. The grant includes funds for a summer institute at the Planetary Habitability Lab at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo. The lab works closely with the Arecibo Observatory, the world’s largest radio telescope.

    Arecibo Observatory

    Former Rice Provost William Gordon founded and supervised the observatory’s construction.

    Joining Alexander are co-investigators Christopher Johns-Krull, Anthony Chan and Frank Toffoletto, all professors of physics and astronomy; Stephen Bradshaw, an assistant professor and the William V. Vietti Junior Chair of Space Physics; Stanislav Sazykin, a senior faculty fellow, all at Rice; and Abel Méndez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

    Other collaborators are Robert Kerr, director of the Arecibo Observatory; and Tom Hill and Richard Wolf, research professors and professors emeritus of physics and astronomy; Andrea Isella, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and Patricia Reiff, a professor of physics and astronomy and associate director of the Rice Space Institute, all at Rice.

    “One reason there are so many people involved is because we need everyone’s expertise in a truly multidisciplinary project like this,” Alexander said. “We all have our own scientific interests and projects, but to be able to do work together is icing on the cake.”

    See the full article here .

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    Rice U campus

    In his 1912 inaugural address, Rice University president Edgar Odell Lovett set forth an ambitious vision for a great research university in Houston, Texas; one dedicated to excellence across the range of human endeavor. With this bold beginning in mind, and with Rice’s centennial approaching, it is time to ask again what we aspire to in a dynamic and shrinking world in which education and the production of knowledge will play an even greater role. What shall our vision be for Rice as we prepare for its second century, and how ought we to advance over the next decade?

    This was the fundamental question posed in the Call to Conversation, a document released to the Rice community in summer 2005. The Call to Conversation asked us to reexamine many aspects of our enterprise, from our fundamental mission and aspirations to the manner in which we define and achieve excellence. It identified the pressures of a constantly changing and increasingly competitive landscape; it asked us to assess honestly Rice’s comparative strengths and weaknesses; and it called on us to define strategic priorities for the future, an effort that will be a focus of the next phase of this process.

  • richardmitnick 8:14 pm on July 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Magnetosphere,   

    From phys.org: “Earth’s magnetic shield is much older than previously thought” 


    July 30, 2015
    U Rochester

    An artist’s depiction of Earth’s magnetic field deflecting high-energy protons from the sun four billion years ago. Note: The relative sizes of the Earth and Sun, as well as the distances between the two bodies, are not drawn to scale. Credit: Graphic by Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester.

    Since 2010, the best estimate of the age of Earth’s magnetic field has been 3.45 billion years. But now a researcher responsible for that finding has new data showing the magnetic field is far older.

    John Tarduno, a geophysicist at the University of Rochester and a leading expert on Earth’s magnetic field, and his team of researchers say they believe the Earth’s magnetic field is at least four billion years old.

    “A strong magnetic field provides a shield for the atmosphere,” said Tarduno, “This is important for the preservation of habitable conditions on Earth.”

    The findings by Tarduno and his team have been published in the latest issue of the journal Science.

    Earth’s magnetic field protects the atmosphere from solar winds—streams of charged particles shooting from the Sun. The magnetic field helps prevent the solar winds from stripping away the atmosphere and water, which make life on the planet possible.

    Earth’s magnetic field is generated in its liquid iron core, and this “geodynamo” requires a regular release of heat from the planet to operate. Today, that heat release is aided by plate tectonics, which efficiently transfers heat from the deep interior of the planet to the surface.

    The tectonic plates of the world were mapped in the second half of the 20th century.

    But, according to Tarduno, the time of origin of plate tectonics is hotly debated, with some scientists arguing that Earth lacked a magnetic field during its youth.

    Given the importance of the magnetic field, scientists have been trying to determine when it first arose, which could, in turn, provide clues as to when plate tectonics got started and how the planet was able to remain habitable.

    Fortunately for scientists, there are minerals—such as magnetite—that lock in the magnetic field record at the time the minerals cooled from their molten state. The oldest available minerals can tell scientists the direction and the intensity of the field at the earliest periods of Earth’s history. In order to get reliable measurements, it’s crucial that the minerals obtained by scientists are pristine and never reached a sufficient heat level that would have allowed the old magnetic information within the minerals to reset to the magnetic field of the later time.

    The directional information is stored in microscopic grains inside magnetite- a naturally occurring magnetic iron oxide. Within the smallest magnetite grains are regions that have their own individual magnetizations and work like a tape recorder. Just as in magnetic tape, information is recorded at a specific time and remains stored unless it is replaced under specific conditions.

    Tarduno’s new results are based on the record of magnetic field strength fixed within magnetite found within zircon crystals collected from the Jack Hills of Western Australia.

    Jack Hills satellite image

    The zircons were formed over more than a billion years and have come to rest in an ancient sedimentary deposit. By sampling zircons of different age, the history of the magnetic field can be determined.

    The ancient zircons are tiny—about two-tenths of a millimeter—and measuring their magnetization is a technological challenge. Tarduno and his team used a unique superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID magnetometer, at the University of Rochester that provides a sensitivity ten times greater than comparable instruments.

    But in order for today’s magnetic intensity readings of the magnetite to reveal the actual conditions of that era, the researchers needed to make sure the magnetite within the zircon remained pristine from the time of formation.

    Of particular concern was a period some 2.6 billion years ago during which temperatures in the rocks of the Jack Hills reached 475?C. Under those conditions, it was possible that the magnetic information recorded in the zircons would have been erased and replaced by a new, younger recording of Earth’s magnetic field.

    “We know the zircons have not been moved relative to each other from the time they were deposited,” said Tarduno. “As a result, if the magnetic information in the zircons had been erased and re-recorded, the magnetic directions would have all been identical.”

    Instead, Tarduno found that the minerals revealed varying magnetic directions, convincing him that the intensity measurements recorded in the samples were indeed as old as four billion years.

    The intensity measurements reveal a great deal about the presence of a geodynamo at the Earth’s core. Tarduno explains that solar winds could interact with the Earth’s atmosphere to create a small magnetic field, even in the absence of a core dynamo. Under those circumstances, he calculates that the maximum strength of a magnetic field would be 0.6 uT (micro-Teslas). The values measured by Tarduno and his team were much greater than 0.6 ?T, indicating the presence of a geodynamo at the core of the planet, as well as suggesting the existence of the plate tectonics needed to release the built-up heat.

    “There has been no consensus among scientists on when plate tectonics began,” said Tarduno. “Our measurements, however, support some previous geochemical measurements on ancient zircons that suggest an age of 4.4 billion years.”

    The magnetic field was of special importance in that eon because solar winds were about 100 times stronger than today. In the absence of a magnetic field, Tarduno says the protons that make up the solar winds would have ionized and stripped light elements from the atmosphere, which, among other things, resulted in the loss of water.

    Scientists believe that Mars had an active geodynamo when that planet was formed, but that it died off after four billion years. As a result, Tarduno says, the Red Planet had no magnetic field to protect the atmosphere, which may explain why its atmosphere is so thin.

    “It may also be a major reason why Mars was unable to sustain life,” said Tarduno.

    See the full article here.

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 11:52 am on February 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Magnetosphere, NASA MMO   

    From NASA: “Magnetospheric Multiscale Observatories Processed for Launch” 




    NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observatories are processed for launch in a clean room at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida. MMS is an unprecedented NASA mission to study the mystery of how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, explosively releasing energy via a process known as magnetic reconnection. MMS consists of four identical spacecraft that work together to provide the first three-dimensional view of this fundamental process, which occurs throughout the universe.

    The mission observes reconnection directly in Earth’s protective magnetic space environment, the magnetosphere. By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, MMS helps us understand reconnection elsewhere as well, such as in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system’s heliosphere and interstellar space.

    MMS is a NASA mission led by the Goddard Space Flight Center. The instrument payload science team consists of researchers from a number of institutions and is led by the Southwest Research Institute. Launch of the four identical observatories aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is managed by Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Services Program. Liftoff is currently targeted for 10:44 p.m. EDT on March 12.

    See the full article here.

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 5:16 am on January 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Magnetosphere   

    From Carnegie Institute: “Missing link in metal physics explains Earth’s magnetic field: 

    Carnegie Institution of Washington bloc

    Carnegie Institution of Washington

    January 28, 2015
    Ronald Cohen


    Earth’s magnetic field is crucial for our existence, as it shields the life on our planet’s surface from deadly cosmic rays. It is generated by turbulent motions of liquid iron in Earth’s core. Iron is a metal, which means it can easily conduct a flow of electrons that makes up an electric current. New findings from a team including Carnegie’s Ronald Cohen and Peng Zhang shows that a missing piece of the traditional theory explaining why metals become less conductive when they are heated was needed to complete the puzzle that explains this field-generating process. Their work is published in Nature.

    The center of the Earth is very hot, and the flow of heat from the planet’s center towards the surface is thought to drive most of the dynamics of the Earth, ranging from volcanoes to plate tectonics. It has long been thought that heat flow drives what is called thermal convection—the hottest liquid becomes less dense and rises, as the cooler, more-dense liquid sinks—in Earth’s liquid iron core and generates Earth’s magnetic field. But recent calculations called this theory into question, launching new quests for its explanation.

    In their work, Cohen and Zhang, along with Kristjan Haule of Rutgers University, used a new computational physics method and found that the original thermal convection theory was right all along. Their conclusion hinges on discovering that the classic theory of metals developed in the 1930’s was incomplete.

    The electrons in metals, such as the iron in Earth’s core, carry current and heat. A material’s resistivity impedes this flow. The classic theory of metals explains that resistivity increases with temperature, due to atoms vibrating more as the heat rises. The theory says that at high temperatures resistivity happens when electrons in the current bounce off of vibrating atoms. These bounced electrons scatter and resist the current flow. As temperature increases, the atoms vibrate more, and increasing the scattering of bounced electrons. The electrons not only carry charge, but also carry energy, so that thermal conductivity is proportional to the electrical conductivity.

    The work that had purportedly thrown the decades-old prevailing theory on the generation of Earth’s magnetic field out the window claimed that thermal convection could not drive magnetic-field generation. The calculations in those studies said that the resistivity of the molten metal in Earth’s core, which is generated by this electron scattering process, would be too low, and thus the thermal conductivity too high, to allow thermal convection to generate the magnetic field.

    Cohen, Zhang, and Haule’s new work shows that the cause of about half of the resistivity generated was long neglected: it arises from electrons scattering off of each other, rather than off of atomic vibrations.

    “We uncovered an effect that had been hiding in plain sight for 80 years,” Cohen said. “And now the original dynamo theory works after all!”

    This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the European Research Council Advanced Grant ToMCaT.

    This research used NSF Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE)
    supercomputer ‘Stampede’, and also used resources of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.

    See the full article here.

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    Carnegie Institution of Washington Bldg

    ndrew Carnegie established a unique organization dedicated to scientific discovery “to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind…” The philosophy was and is to devote the institution’s resources to “exceptional” individuals so that they can explore the most intriguing scientific questions in an atmosphere of complete freedom. Carnegie and his trustees realized that flexibility and freedom were essential to the institution’s success and that tradition is the foundation of the institution today as it supports research in the Earth, space, and life sciences.

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