[KIDS] The Earth’s Own Force Field

Magnetosphere_rendition

An artist’s depiction of the sun and the earth’s force field, the magnetosphere. Source: By NASA – http://sec.gsfc.nasa.gov/popscise.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=192450

As a giant chunk of rock spinning through space around a superheated ball of gas (our beloved Sun), the Earth is in serious need of protection. For example, the Sun shoots out something called a solar wind. The solar wind is made of electrically charged particles that the Sun shoots out at up to a million miles per hour. The solar wind can harm the Earth’s atmosphere. This type of harm would, in turn, allow other harmful radiation from the sun to reach Earth. That would be bad news.

Luckily, the Earth creates its very own force field! The magnetosphere is a magnetic field that surrounds the earth. Because the particles in the solar wind have electrical charge, they are affected by the magnetosphere. The particles are flushed aside and our Earth stays safe (pretty much).

In the video below, you can see a model of the magnetosphere, made by a team at NASA:

What creates the magnetosphere? Well, you might know that at the heart of the earth lies a giant chunk of solid iron called the Earth’s inner core. Around it flows the liquid iron outer core, acting a little like an electric current. All electric currents produce a magnetic field, and the complicated motion of the inner core is no exception. Its violent movements produce what’s called the Dynamo Effect, which generates our magnetic field.

Now, imagine a fight between a superhero and their nemesis: it has to look spectacular right? Well, the clash between the magnetosphere and solar winds is actually pretty epic. It produces the Northern and Southern Lights, or Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. These are spectacular displays of ghostly lights in the sky that you can see on a clear night in certain parts of the world, when solar winds hit the magnetosphere in a certain way.

So yes: the earth’s magnetosphere, its personal force field, is pretty cool! Let’s celebrate it with a video of the Northern Lights (made by National Geographic).

 

Vocab

Solar wind: a stream of charged particles shot out of the Sun

Atmosphere: the layer of air, made up of many gases, that covers the earth

Radiation: energy given off as waves or particles that can travel through space.

Magnetosphere: the region of space around Earthwhere Earth’s magnetic field is strong

Dynamo Effect: a theory about how planets and similar bodies create magnetic fields

Clash: a fight

Nemesis: an enemy that’s difficult to beat

Aurora Borealis: a natural display of lights in the sky, caused by solar winds and the earth’s magnetic field. Also known as the Northern Lights

 

Books to read if you liked this article

Space, Stars, Slimy

Space, Stars and Slimy Aliens by Nick Arnold. What does the moon smell like? Why do our guts explode in space? Answers to these questions and more in this exploration of the disgusting side of space.

 

 

 

 

 

Northern LightsThe Magnetosphere: Earth's Force Field | Readorium by Philip Pullman (also called The Golden Compass). What if the Northern Lights led to another universe? In a world of armored polar bears, witch queens and weird science, a girl named Lyra may just find out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where We Got our Information

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/29dec_magneticfield/

http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/sw.html

http://www.nature.com/news/2005/050228/full/news050228-12.html

 

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