Seeing the invisible


  • Michael Carlowicz


Alas, scientists can finally see with their eyes what they have only seen in their heads. Researchers from Boston University's Center for Space Physics, The Aerospace Corporation, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory have produced the first movies of particle activity in the near-Earth space environment. Looking down on much of Earth's magnetosphere from the polar orbit of NASA's POLAR spacecraft, the researchers have compiled high-resolution, sequential images of space weather.

Relying primarily on POLAR's imaging proton spectrometer (IPS), the research team amassed data on energetic neutral atoms (ENAs). These atoms are created when cold, neutral gases of the atmosphere interact with the energetic, charged particles trapped in Earth's radiation belts. From analyses of ENAs, the team was able to generate images of geomagnetic activity in the shell around Earth.