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Superfast Energetic Electron 'Precipitation' Pelts Our Earth!

I really enjoy the use of weather analogies to describe astrophysics; today's example is a classic.


(Comparison of electron pitch-angle transport caused by wave-driven Landau resonant trapping to transport caused by diffusion.)
a Observed precipitation caused by Landau resonant interaction with whistler-mode waves. The initial electron (of approximately 10 keV) has a pitch angle α outside the loss cone, corresponding to a large radius of gyration (blue) around the magnetic field line (white curve). But after resonant trapping and acceleration (to 60–150 keV) by whistler-mode waves (purple) observed at Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) spacecraft on a near-equatorial orbit (cyan curve), the electron’s pitch angle enters the loss cone (yellow) and it is precipitated (red) toward the atmosphere, as observed by Electron Losses and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) spacecraft on a low-altitude polar orbit (green curve). b Normalized electron phase space density profiles (solid curves) from within the loss cone (yellow range, of maximum pitch angle αLC) to outside it, for weak (grey) and strong (black) diffusion by waves. The electron phase space density within the loss cone remains much smaller than (for weak diffusion) or at most equal to (for strong diffusion) the phase space density of trapped electrons immediately outside the loss cone. c Same as (b) but for Landau resonant nonlinear trapping by intense oblique waves, leading to loss cone overfilling (red) with higher electron phase space density (solid curve) within the loss cone than immediately outside it, and faster electron losses than for strong diffusion.

The researchers observed unexpected, rapid "electron precipitation" from low-Earth orbit using the ELFIN mission, a pair of tiny satellites built and operated on the UCLA campus by undergraduate and graduate students guided by a small team of staff mentors.

By combining the ELFIN data with more distant observations from NASA's THEMIS spacecraft, the scientists determined that the sudden downpour was caused by whistler waves, a type of electromagnetic wave that ripples through plasma in space and affects electrons in the Earth's magnetosphere, causing them to "spill over" into the atmosphere.

Here's an early reference from AE van Vogt's The Storm, published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1943:

On the three-dimensional map at weather headquarters on the planet Kaider III, the storm was colored orange. Which meant it was the biggest of the four hundred odd storms raging in the Fifty Suns region of the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. It showed as an uneven splotch fronting at Latitude 473, Longitude 228, Center 190 parsecs, but that was a special Fifty Suns degree system which had no relation to the magnetic center of the Magellanic Cloud as a whole.
(Read more at space weather map)

Via PhysOrg; thanks to @nyrath.

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