NASA Has Launched a Satellite Mission Into the Magnetosphere
NASA successfully launched the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket into space. It carries with it four Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft that will spend two years studying the magnetic fields between the Earth and the Sun.
The four spacecraft will construct the first-ever 3D view of the magnetosphere. In particular, they will help NASA scientists to understand why the magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect. This process releases explosive quantities of energy, in a process known as reconnection, which can disrupt electronics on the surface of our planet.
The relationship between those fields is something we don't know a lot about right now. NASA wants to change that, because massive eruptions on the surface of the Sun can pose a real danger to electronic systems here on Earth. The rocket launched on schedule at 10:44 PM ET, and proceeded to space as the scientists on the ground expected, dropping its payload of four satellites in orbit around the Earth.
NASA specifically wants to know more about what's called "magnetic reconnection," which is the process that accelerates particles to these dangerous levels. Not only does it occur on the Sun (it's the driving force behind the Sun's coronal mass ejections), but it takes place in this boundary area as well.