Earth's climate and space environment are significantly determined by the impact of plasma, particle, and radiative outputs from the Sun. With remote sensors at locations across Alaska, the Geophysical Institute Magnetometer Array (GIMA) senses the interactions between this "solar wind" and Earth's magnetosphere. They also sense the currents associated with auroras to determine their strength and location – and help scientists at the Geophysical Institute's Poker Flat Research Range predict which auroras are worth launching scientific sounding rockets into. At several magnetometer locations, all-sky cameras also provide optical data.
In this NASA image, Earth is surrounded by green lines that represent the magnetosphere. The bulb shape on the left is the bow shock from the solar wind, which is streaming left to right.
The Earth's magnetosphere is a fluctuating magnetic envelope surrounding the planet. Its uneven and stretched shape is created by the interaction of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun, with Earth's own magnetic field. As part of a complex system that includes the ionosphere and upper atmosphere, the magnetosphere helps protect Earth from the solar storms that create aurora, also known as northern lights.
Space Weather and Earth's Aurora
In the image below, the glowing bundle of lines on the right represents billions of tons of plasma released from the Sun during a solar storm, traveling as fast as 8 million km an hour, headed for Earth. The video reveals what happens next.
For more information on Earth's magnetosphere, space weather, and auroras, explore the NASA website.