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Mysterious interferences at Earth’s poles are being investigated

Mysterious interferences at Earth's poles are being investigated 1

Something unusual is interfering with technology at the Earth’s poles, and scientists are now determined to find out what is behind this mysterious phenomenon.

Mysterious interferences at Earth's poles are being investigated
Solar wind flowing around the Earth’s magnetosphere, channeled at the poles. Credit: NASA

Why are devices using radio or satellite connections malfunctioning above the north and south poles?

NASA wants to launch three missions to investigate the North Polar Cusp, a space funnel that can give a clue to explain the strange phenomenon.

The three missions are part of the Grand Challenge Initiative – Cusp, a series of nine rocket missions exploring the polar cusp.

Every second, 1.5 million tons of solar material is launched from the sun into space, traveling at hundreds of kilometers per second. Known as the solar wind, this incessant flow of plasma or electrified gas has hit the earth for over 4 billion years. Thanks to the magnetic field of our planet, it is diverted away. But go north, and you will find the exception.

Mark Conde, space physicist at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, said:

Most of the earth is protected from the solar wind. But very close to the poles, in the midday sector, our magnetic field becomes a funnel where the solar wind can reach the atmosphere.

Are the polar cusps or something else responsible for the phenomenon?

These funnels, known as polar cusps, can cause some problems. The influx of solar wind disturbs the atmosphere, disrupting satellites and radio and GPS signals.

The northern polar cusp also has a dense atmosphere, and this can be a real problem for our spaceship.

Earl, the mission’s principal investigator at Cusp Region Experiment-2, or CREX-2, reported:

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A small extra mass 320 kilometers away may seem like a big problem. But the change in pressure associated with this increase in mass density, if it occurred at ground level, would cause a stronger continuous hurricane than anything seen in the weather records.

This additional mass creates problems for ships flying through it, such as the many satellites that follow a polar orbit. Passing through the dense region can shake their trajectories, making close encounters with other spacecraft or orbital debris more risky.

A small change of a few hundred meters can make the difference between having to do an evasive or not.

Norwegian space physicist Jøran Moen, who leads the Cusp Irregularities-5, intended to measure turbulence and distinguish it from electric waves.

He said:

Turbulence is one of the most difficult questions of classical physics. We really don’t know what it is because we don’t have direct measurements yet

Moen compares the turbulence to the whirlwinds that form when rivers run around rocks. When the atmosphere gets turbulent, the GPS and communication signals that pass through it can be distorted, sending unreliable signals to the airplanes and ships that depend on them.

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