MMS To Study Secrets Of Magnetic Reconnection
May 16, 2014

Unlocking The Secrets Of Magnetic Reconnection

Susan Hendrix, NASA

In March 2015, NASA will launch four identical spacecraft to study how magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, explosively releasing energy – a process known as magnetic reconnection.

The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission will provide the first three-dimensional views of this fundamental process that can accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light. MMS uses Earth’s protective magnetic space environment, the magnetosphere, as a natural laboratory to directly measure reconnection. Reconnection is a common processes in our universe; occurring in space near Earth, in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at virtually any boundary between space plasmas, including the boundary between our solar system's heliosphere and interstellar space.

To study the phenomenon, MMS will fly directly through known areas of magnetic reconnection near Earth, which requires a fairly detailed orbit plan.

[ Watch The Video: The MMS Mission’s Unique Orbit ]

In the video you'll see that, during the first phase of the mission, which lasts about one year, MMS will focus on reconnection sites on the sun-side of Earth, where the orbit will extend out toward the sun to around 47,500 miles, the equivalent of 12 Earth radii. The second phase will focus on reconnection in Earth’s night-side magnetotail, during which time the MMS orbit will extend away from Earth to almost 99,000 miles, the equivalent of 25 Earth radii.