Trekkies, you're in for a treat - once the stuff of science-fiction, the "portal", a gateway that connects two distant locations separated by spacetime, is no longer so fictional.
Nasa-funded research has found they do, kind of, exist and it is planning a mission in 2014 to study the phenomenon by sending four spacecrafts to spread out in Earth's magnetosphere.
University of Iowa plasma physicist Jack Scudder said the portals were called X-points or electron diffusion regions.
"They're places where the magnetic field of the Earth connects to the magnetic field of the sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."
The portals were located tens of thousands of kilometres from Earth, where the geomagnetic field meets strong solar winds, some short-lived, others vast and sustained.
They opened and closed dozens of times each day. When open, energy particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras.
Scudder said there was one problem, and that was finding them.
"Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable and elusive. They open and close without warning and there are no signposts to guide us in."
But he said he had learnt how to pinpoint the portals by looking at data from a space probe that orbited Earth.
"In the late 1990s, NASA's Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth's magnetosphere," explained Scudder, "and it encountered many X-points during its mission.
"We have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and energetic particle measurements that tell us when we've come across a X-point. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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