NASA uses balloons to map Earth’s magnetic field

©
It’s been two years since NASA released miniature membranous balloons above Antarctica in order to learn more about the invisible magnetic field that shields the Earth from radiation. The data balloons, however, have surprised even NASA.

The Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses, or BARREL, campaign was meant to document the rain of electrons that enter the atmosphere from Earth’s magnetic field. Instead, the BARREL campaign managed to map the entire magnetic field that surrounds the planet and even found the boundaries of the field tens of thousands of miles away.

David Sibeck, a space scientist at Goddard and mission scientist at NASA, explained: “The scientists used balloon observations of solar particles entering Earth’s magnetic field to locate the outer boundary of Earth’s magnetic field, many tens of thousands of miles away.

Much of the new discovery comes from a fairly common occurrence. Solar winds are par for the course in space and occur when a cloud of magnetic solar material collides with the blue planet’s magnetic field. The resulting effects can damage satellites, power grids and electrical systems, according to Minneapolis Fox-affiliate KMSP.

By learning more about solar wind, this allows experts to get one step closer to better preparing and protecting equipment from the effects of it.

This isn’t what BARREL was intended for, but it’s a wonderful bonus science return,” Sibeck said.