Nov 19, 1996

Plasmas Can't Hide From Neutralized TIDE





November 20, 1996

The Earth's plasma "fountain"
Ever had to fight your laundry, hot from the dryer, as static buildup makes it billow and fly away? Space scientists have had a similar problem in trying to measure plasmas - electrified gases - in outer space.

To beat the space equivalent of static buildup, scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center built a special instrument for the Polar spacecraft and discovered that "empty"space above the north and south poles actually is filled by supersonic fountains of oxygen, hydrogen, and helium.

Space is not entirely empty. It is filled with wisps of plasmas, electrified gases. But instruments on Earth-orbit satellites reported no plasmas were in the space above Earth's.

Until Marshall scientists developed the Thermal Ion Dynamics Experiment (TIDE) instrument for Polar. TIDE neutralizes the satellite's own static buildup so it can measure all but the lowest energy plasmas in space.

And that is leading to important understandings of how the Earth and Sun work together to give us dazzling light shows or leave us completely in the dark.