How do solar wind particles get trapped in a planet's magnetosphere?

  1. How do solar wind particles get trapped in a planet's magnetosphere? The particles travel along the Sun's magnetic field lines, right? And then they switch to traveling along the planet's field lines? How?

    When they get trapped, are they still supersonic?

    Is it correct to say that outside of the magnetopause, charged particles are dominated by the Sun's magnetic field?
  2. jcsd
  3. StephenPrivitera

    Charged particles follow magnetic "lines of force", like the plasma shooting around in those nifty Tokomak reactors. I really have no idea about the maths involved, but I'd bet it would require a hell of a lot of energy for one of those particles to shoot straight through our magnetic field rather than be influenced by it.

    Supersonic? In space? Well, they're fast. 400 km/s, or so says a NASA page I just looked at.

    I have a question about this too. Stars tend to shoot out huge streams of charged particles out the poles, more than in other directions. What effects do these geysers have on the flow of charged particles in other directions?
  4. From your first site,
    "Because of this, electrons that orbit around a nucleus in one direction will have more energy than electrons that orbit about the nucleus in the opposite direction."
    Is that right? What exactly is meant here by "energy"?

    By supersonic, I meant faster than sound on the surface of the earth, or at least I assume that's what's meant. I've seen this a lot.

    In my notes, it says, "when magnetic reconnection events occur, wind particles can breach the magnetosphere." Is this to say that without "reconnection" wind particles cannot pass the magnetopause?

    What's the second link for?
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2003
  5. Sorry, I don't know anything about magnetic reconnection. I'm seriously sleepy now. I'll learn that myself later.

    The link is to a picture of a Tokomak reactor. They're just funky. They always remind me of Death Stars.
  6. Nereid

    Nereid 3,582
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    AFAIK, in the context in which the word is used, it means 'faster than the speed of sound in that medium'.

    Things are a little different in a plasma (such as the interplanetary medium) than in a neutral gas (such as the air down here on Earth), but the general idea is the same. If something is travelling 'supersonically', it will surely create shocks, and these can provide wonderful opportunities for accelerating charged particles in plasmas. This is one of the mechanisms believed to be responsible for creating a significant fraction of the cosmic rays; the shock fronts in this case being where the expanding shell from a supernova crashes into the much cooler interstellar medium.
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