MMS Mission – studying the magnetism

The mission will cost $ 1.1 billion and the twin probes will remain in orbit for a minimum of two years. The mission will be focused, from September 2015, on the interaction of the magnetic field of the Earth with other celestial bodies, like the sun.


Credit: NASA

It is called Magnetospheric Multiscale, (MMS) the deployment of four probes NASA launched into Earth orbit – Thursday at 10:44 PM. Four identically instrumented spacelabs that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a test center to study the microphysics of three crucial plasma processes: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. For the first time, a mission will be exclusively devoted to the study of the interaction of the magnetic field of the Earth with other celestial bodies, such as the sun. It is thought that this process is also responsible for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.
The probes are propelled to orbit aboard the Atlas V rocket 421, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida. After reaching orbit, each spacecraft was undocked from the rocket with an interval of five minutes. The mission is very complex and in the next few weeks, NASA experts will use antennas and mechanical arms in each twin probes and test all the instruments on board. The 4 MMS will be placed with a pyramidal layout to begin scientific observations in early September. The probes will be operational for two years, but NASA hopes to be able to extend their life. All this will cost $ 1.1 billion.

All 4 MMS Spacecrafts


Credit: NASA

“After a decade of preparation, the science team is ready to get to work,” said Jim Burch, senior researcher for the MMS mission for the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio (SwRI). “We never had – he added – the opportunity to study this process in such a detail.”
The 4 probes offer the first three-dimensional view of the magnetic reconnection between Earth and the Sun, and this will help researchers understand how to connect and disconnect the magnetic fields in the Universe through the powerful and dramatic explosions, which have been studied in the past but never with such a mission. These explosions release an enormous amount of energy that can reach billions of megatons of trinitrotoluene (the famous TNT that appears in all the cartoons). The particles that are expelled during these explosions reach a speed close to that of light. The three-dimensional vision will be given by the proximity of the four spacecraft, at a distance of 10 kilometers from each other, which will also be equipped with high-precision sensors which will analyze the surrounding space 100 times faster than other similar missions.


Credit: NASA

The researchers also hope to be able one day to predict these phenomena and to know them better. This is because the effect of terrestrial magnetism often has consequences, even serious ones, on Earth, especially on modern technological systems such as communication networks, GPS navigation and electricity networks (the same happens during the explosions that occur on the Sun). Thanks to this particular orbiting laboratory, we can study the phenomenon even around other stars, not only the Sun, but also close to the black holes and neutron stars, maybe even reaching the border with interstellar space.

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