An Australian student has used a 3D telescope to confirm what scientists have believed for over 60 years, but until now have been unable to substantiate.
Cleo Loi, and undergraduate at the University of Sydney used a 3D telescope to uncover proof of tubular plasma structures that live in the inner layers of the magnetosphere that surrounds the Earth.
Using the Murchison Widefield Array a radio telescope in the Western Australian desert, Loi discovered that she could map large patches of the sky and harness the array’s rapid snapshot setting to make a movie. This resulted in real-time movements of the plasma.
This discovery could have potential benefits as it relates to satellites and other technology that is orbiting the earths surface.
“The discovery of the structures is important because they cause unwanted signal distortions that could, as one example, affect our civilian and military satellite-based navigation systems. So we need to understand them,” said Loi, who is the lead author on research into the tubes.
The region of space around the Earth occupied by its magnetic field, called the magnetosphere. This is filled with plasma that is created by the atmosphere being ionized by sunlight. They are embedded with an assortment of strangely shaped plasma structures, including the newly discovered tubes.
The region of space around the Earth occupied by its magnetic field, called the magnetosphere, is filled with plasma that is created by the atmosphere being ionized by sunlight.
The innermost layer of the magnetosphere is the ionosphere, and above that is the plasmasphere. They are embedded with a variety of strangely shaped plasma structures including, as has now been revealed, the tubes.
Using the telescope Loi noted; “We measured their position to be about 600 km above the ground, in the upper ionosphere, and they appear to be continuing upwards into the plasmasphere. This is around where the neutral atmosphere ends, and we are transitioning to the plasma of outer space.”
Loi was awarded the 2015 Bok Prize of the Astronomical Society of Australia for her work. He supervisor Dr Tara Murphy, of the School of Physics at the University of Sydney noted what an important discovery it was for such a young scientist.
She said; “It is to Cleo’s great credit that she not only discovered this but also convinced the rest of the scientific community. As an undergraduate student with no prior background in this, that is an impressive achievement.”