Who cares? Anyone living on Earth!
We've learned that Earth's atmosphere is protected from the solar wind by our magnetosphere. Even so, some solar wind energy does enter our magnetosphere and atmosphere and can cause a small amount of our atmosphere to be launched into space. We need to understand this loss of our atmosphere in order to understand our planet's environmental stability over a long time period.
Solar wind energy in our magnetosphere can also cause what are known as space plasma storms. These storms can cause communication and science satellites to fail. They can also cause damage to electric power systems on the surface of the Earth.
A large space storm in 1989 made currents on the ground that caused a failure in the Hydro-Quebec electric power system. This prevented 6 million people in Canada and the US from having electricity for over 9 hours. The same storm caused the atmosphere to inflate and dragged the LDEF satellite to a lower orbit earlier than expected.
The Space Plasma Physics Branch at Marshall Space Flight Center devotes its time to understanding the magnetosphere around Earth and around other planets. Our work will help NASA predict space plasma storms so that we may protect our satellites and electric power systems. Our work will also help to preserve this important part of Earth's enironment.
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