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What Are The Causes And Effects Of Interactions Between The Solar Wind And Planetary Bodies?

3028 words - 12 pages

The Solar WindSince our sun formed, around 4.6 billion years ago it has been the ultimate source of energy and light on Earth. Made of 73% hydrogen, 25% helium and around 50 other trace elements and radiating 4 x 1026 watts of energy every second , it has not only emitted electromagnetic radiation through the nuclear fusion of atoms in its core but also produces huge amounts of ionised gas due to the high temperatures. This gas is known as the solar wind and one million tonnes is emitted each second. It is comprised of a hot plasma of free electrons and positive ions, atoms which have lost their electrons in the violent collisions at 1,000,000°K. Being a plasma, it can conduct electric currents and its particles, with the entrained solar magnetic field, can be steered by other magnetic fields. It is ejected continuously from the suns corona, but sometimes more violent solar activity occurs, solar flares and prominences, and sends out large amounts at one time. The picture below shows mass coronal ejections from the sun.The time it takes to reach Earth has been recorded at roughly 4 days, by seeing how long it takes mass ejection of particles viewed on one day to reach the Earth and produce an aurora. From this, the speed at which the particles travel can be calculated.Average time taken for particles to reach Earth = 4 days4 days converted to seconds = 4 x 24 x 60 x 60 = 345600 secondsAverage distance of Earth from sun = 149.6 x 106kmSpeed = Distance =149.6 x 106km = 432.9kms-1345600The magnetic field lines created by the sun are wound into a spiral as the sun rotates, meaning that at Earth the angle at which the field hits it is almost 45° whilst at Saturn the field is almost perpendicular to the planet. However the solar wind travels outwards in straight lines, until it merges to equal particle density with the interstellar medium, at a point called the heliopause, or it encounters a planetary body. If the body has a magnetic field, then the particles are deflected by the region of space surrounding it, known as the magnetosphere. This is the region around a body where its own magnetic field dominates the behaviour of electrically charged particles.What is the cause of Planetary Magnetospheres?For a magnetosphere to be present the body must have a magnetic field. The diagram below shows the Earth's magnetic field.One explanation of how planetary magnetic fields were created is due to their presence in the Sun's massive magnetic field. This is formed by the nuclear fusion in the Sun's rotating core causing extremely vigorous motion of electrically conductive matter and therefore a dynamo. The idea is that when the solar system was forming 4½ billion years ago, the iron in the solidifying planets created a magnetic field in line with the interplanetary field. Whilst this theory works with the smaller terrestrial planets, the larger gas giants still have interior temperatures that remain above the point at which iron and other...

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