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Plasma Trapped in Earth’s Magnetic Field
February 05, 2001

Scientists are getting their first global views of the Earth’s magnetic field and magnetic storms by tracking the motion of plasma (or transparent, electrified gas) in pictures such as this one taken by NASA’s Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft on August 11, 2000. The ultraviolet glow from relatively cold plasma trapped inside Earth’s magnetic field is shown in this false color picture. The IMAGE spacecraft is looking down at the Earth from above the north pole. The Sun is outside the picture area towards the top right corner, resulting in the shadow cast by the Earth in its own plasma cloud at the bottom left of the image. A hook-shaped "tail" of plasma streaming toward the Sun can be seen at the top left of the picture. Note also the small, faint circle near the center of the image. This is the ultraviolet glow from the aurora, also known as the northern lights.

image: NASA and the IMAGE science team

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