Energy from solar wind favours the north


Published on 12 January 2021

Using information from ESA’s Swarm satellite constellation, scientists have made a discovery about how energy generated by electrically-charged particles in the solar wind flows into Earth’s atmosphere – surprisingly, more of it heads towards the magnetic north pole than towards the magnetic south pole.

The Sun bathes our planet with the light and heat to sustain life, but it also bombards us with dangerous charged particles in the solar wind. These charged particles have the potential to damage communication networks, navigations systems such as GPS and satellites. Severe solar storms can even cause power outages, such as the major blackout that Quebec in Canada suffered in 1989.

Our magnetic field largely shields us from this onslaught.

Generated mainly by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core around 3000 km beneath our feet, Earth’s magnetic field is like a huge bubble protecting us from cosmic radiation and the charged particles carried by powerful winds that escape the Sun’s gravitational pull and sweep across the Solar System.

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