back to article NASA discovers mysterious super-fast electrons whizzing above Earth

Electrons are being whipped to speeds close to the speed of light just outside the Earth’s magnetic field, and scientists aren’t sure why. NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) mission has discovered these extremely fast particles farther from Earth than previously thought possible …

  1. Spaceman Spiff

    My late father would have been on the forefront of these studies. He was a cosmic ray physicist who also specialized in interplanetary and interstellar fields. Unfortunately he passed away in 1992.

  2. Aslan

    Amazing there's still things to surprise us

    Amazing there's still things to surprise us in 2016 from the natural world. Also surprisingly SciHub is still about, I found this out from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Hub#External_links and found the full text searching the DOI https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.215101 http://link.aps.org.sci-hub.ac/doi/10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.215101 .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

      OMG, we haven't even scratched the surface of quantum biology or quantum electromagnetics. We still don't have a good model, quantum or classical, to describe the properties of water. There is so much still to figure out...

      1. Roj Blake Silver badge

        Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

        "We still don't have a good model, quantum or classical, to describe the properties of water."

        Yes we do.

      2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

        If you want to have your mind blown about the properties of water, try studying Alchemy :)

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

          If you want to have your mind blown about the properties of water, try studying Alchemy

          There are 12 phase, 22 density, 12 material, 11 thermodynamic and 9 physical anomalies when comparing water with other liquids. Why the fuck would you be bothered with alchemy when there's still so much to learn about water?

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

            "Why the fuck would you be bothered with alchemy when there's still so much to learn about water?"

            Well, if you knew a bit more about Alchemy you wouldn't have asked such a facile question.

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

              Well, if you knew a bit more about Alchemy you wouldn't have asked such a facile question.
              My knowledge of what the Rosicrucian and Freemasons are up to is severely limited and likely to remain so. My knowledge of alchemy as practised by Isaac Newton is somewhat limited by his secrecy regarding his alchemical experiments. I have little interest in perfecting my soul especially since I doubt that I possess such a thing. OTOH the physical and chemical properties of water fascinate facile old me.

              1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

                Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                To the best of my knowledge, Sir Isaac Newton never actually completed the work.

                If you are really interested in water, you might like to do some research into the Archeus of Water.

                1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                  Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                  If you are really interested in water, you might like to do some research into the Archeus of Water.
                  And since I am really interested in water, I will leave the investigation of the intersection of the astral plane with the higher vibrations of the material world to them that prefer New Age/Medieval/NeoPlatonic/Astrological [delete whichever is inapplicable] bullshit to the physical sciences.

                  1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

                    Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                    Strange stuff, water, apparently.

                    I did like the movie, though.

                    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                      Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                      The movie looked like the kind of thing the Gits enjoy, but ebay Australia only came up with a Long John Baldry DVD when searching on water, dvd and 1987. So I purchased that instead.

                  2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

                    Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                    @Pompous Git, thanks for the link.

                    Just for the record, I entered into my studies of Alchemy with a healthy dose of skepticism, and I have still yet to prove anything for myself, but there is a degree of consistency in the way the gibberish that is alchemical literature builds and opens up new insights to make sense of something that was previously nonsensical.

                    As a result, I have an open mind on the subject and will be conducting my own experiments in due course, just like a proper scientist ;)

                    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                      Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                      As a result, I have an open mind on the subject and will be conducting my own experiments in due course, just like a proper scientist ;)
                      Perhaps I'm a little closer to alchemy than you imagine; that is, I'm not a "proper" scientist either. My small contributions have been in the area of organic production, described to me over 30 years ago as "muck and mystery". Making sense of "nonsense" is lots of fun. You might find the following of interest:

                      Plant Talk

                      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

                        Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

                        "You might find the following of interest:"

                        That's truly amazing! I have only had time to read about 1/2 way through that page so far, but I can already see how important that research could be - I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing the Triffid farms ;)

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

        "We still don't have a good model, quantum or classical, to describe the properties of water."

        You mean it might actually really have "memory" of what used to be mixed in with it?

        No, it's not actual;y a coat any more. Just the memory of one. ------------>

    2. King Jack
      Boffin

      Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

      I expect that as we dig deeper and understand more, we will discover new things to blow our minds. It is the way science works. The more you (think) you know the more you don't know. Long may it continue.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Amazing there's still things to surprise us

        The two best words in science: "That's interesting.". They usually lead to some new understanding.

  3. frank ly Silver badge

    "The Sun flings supersonic electrons out to space, ..."

    What is the speed of sound in space?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      A bit slower than a sheep in a vacuum!

      1. billat29

        Now. I thought that as well when I read the article and I then I thought "Well, it's not a perfect vacuum so why shouldn't there be?" And the answer turns out to be 9000m/s. Or not.(*)

        * I read it on the internet. So it must be true.

        http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/162184/what-is-the-speed-of-sound-in-space

        1. TheFinn

          Thanks for thinking things through on my behalf :)

        2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          "And the answer turns out to be 9000m/s."

          There are some really good answers on that stack exchange page. But they're mostly talking about "outer space". You want the relevant speed in the interplanetary medium close to earth.

          The paper seems to be talking about the thermal speed of electrons, and sets the upper limit at 100eV which is ~6000km/s. (I've ignored relativistic effects.) That's more or less consistent with honeste_vivere's stackexchange answer which sets the upper limit at "5170 km/s". So I'd go with ~5000km/s.

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Hang on, I thought sound couldn't travel in a vacuum, so how can it have a speed. It should be 0 m/s.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "Hang on, I thought sound couldn't travel in a vacuum, so how can it have a speed"

              I thought that too, then thought - no sound in a vacuum, so ANY speed >0 would be supersonic. But that's probably me being overly simplistic.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Electric fields

    The lack of understanding is due to the non-acceptance of there being electric fields in space, which easily accelerate electrons to relativistic velocities. This is something that Hannes Alvén was trying to promote in the 1980s, yet there is still a culture of describing space as "hot gases" rather than "plasmas".

    1. cray74 Silver badge

      Re: Electric fields

      yet there is still a culture of describing space as "hot gases" rather than "plasmas".

      Except those descriptions weren't used in this Register article. Further, the NASA news report it referenced stuck to the term "plasma". It once mentioned "gas" but only to define "plasma": "Plasma is much like a gas, but each particle is electrically charged so movement is governed as much by the laws of electromagnetics as it is by the fundamental laws of gravity and motion we more regularly experience on Earth."

      The lack of understanding is due to the non-acceptance of there being electric fields in space

      The presence of electric fields in space is pretty widely accepted. After all, a major part of the payload of deep space payloads for the last 50 years have been magnetic and plasma sensors. The Voyagers are still delivering science on the sun's magnetic fields and charged particles (see: bow shock), while the recently-launched Van Allen probes are examining the Earth's local environment. Quite famously (among planetary scientists), Jupiter and Io are linked by 400,000-Volt, 3,000,000-amp electrical current.

      Heck, this article is about the Wind probe. It specifically has electrical and plasma detectors, which were the entire reason for its flight.

      Now, there are a lot of people who consider the electric universe theory to be pseudo-science garbage, and Hannes Alfvén's 1960s-era plasma cosmology has been steadily disproven through the 1990s. However, those notions were attempting to explain life, the universe, and everything through electricity or plasmas, stretching and warping good science onto issues they are not able to address.

      That in no way means electrical fields, magnetic fields, and plasmas are absent from space or most scientists think such things are absent from space, just that some pseudo-scientific notions incorrectly use them.

      which easily accelerate electrons to relativistic velocities.

      In the absence of outside forces, sure. It's a no brainer for electrical fields to accelerate particles. However, the specific situation under discussion is within Earth's magnetic fields and exosphere, which include other influences: protons; electrons of different velocities; heavier ions and neutral atoms; and Earth's convoluted magnetosphere. It's not a simple environment to launch an electron to the observed energies. It's more like trying to get Ferrari to 80mph in an LA rush hour, which is why scientists are making surprised noises.

      This is something that Hannes Alvén was trying to promote in the 1980s,

      Hannes Alfvén - who did some incredible work understanding plasmas and Earth's magnetosphere, and earned his Nobel physics award - began promoting his plasma cosmology in the 1960s. By the 1990s, it was no longer favored by astrophysicists and cosmologists because it failed to explain a number of key observations: it didn't explain the isotropy of the cosmic microwave and x-ray backgrounds; it did not predict Hubble's Law, and failed to explain the abundance of light elements in the universe.

      But, again, that doesn't mean people think electric and magnetic fields and plasma are absent from space - there's a reason why the Voyagers, Wind, Van Allen Probes, Cassini, Galileo, and New Horizons have plasma and magnetic sensors.

      1. David Pollard

        Magnetohydrodynamics

        It's sad to see Hannes Alfvén lumped in with new age mystics. He does seem to have come in for a great deal of undeserved flak; for opposing Catholic dogma posing as science, for coming into science from a background of engineering, and for having the temerity to suggest viable alternatives to orthodox explanations. Although the Alfvén-Klein hypothesis didn't work out, he did at least have the courage to point out flaws in big bang creation.

        Roger Penrose's latest book, Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe provides interesting perspectives on contemporary cosmology; it is similarly critical. (It might make a nice Christmas present.) And David Tskilauri's paper showing that the jxB force can account for anomalous galactic rotation without the need for elusive dark matter is worth a read.

        https://arxiv.org/abs/0806.1513

  5. David Pollard

    Variation with the solar cycle

    It will be interesting to know how this phenomenon changes as the Sun's magnetic field oscillates. Presumably the dynamical field reversal is associated with changes in the distribution of charge throughout the solar system and beyond.

  6. TRT Silver badge

    Hm.

    Pretty pictures, though.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: Hm.

      Maybe thats the problem, someone needs to turn the TV off... (or at least change the channel)

  7. SquidEmperor

    Day 18

    The earthlings suspect nothing

    1. Milton Silver badge

      Re: Day 18 "The earthlings suspect nothing"

      Ssssh! They missed a trick with the braided rings, and we may even have gotten away with the polar hexagon, but we must have our Infiltration Unit fully installed in the White House before revealing ourselves ... and it appears something called the 'mainstream media' is becoming suspicious ... only two months to go, O Tentacly Presence.

  8. Bob Wheeler
    Coat

    Day 19

    The new hyper space bypass will be coming next

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Day 19

      Memo for day 20: Buy a new towel.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Day 19

      Uh-oh... got the towel ready, but I seem to have mislaid my electronic thumb...

  9. G_Axelsson

    No need for paywalls

    Full article can be downloaded from arxiv.org

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1607.02183

  10. ManiK67
    Alert

    Next they'll be telling us the neutrinos have mutated.

  11. Pliny the Whiner

    "The Sun flings supersonic electrons out to space, and some fly towards Earth but are deflected away by Earth’s magnetic field."

    Goddamned Sun. Even so, I just love the idea that the Earth has its own deflector shield. I don't care what it deflects or how or why, just that we have a deflector shield.

    I can't speak for preceding or succeeding generations, but speaking as a baby bummer living here in the Colonies, I can tell you that my generation has warm feelings for NASA. People of extraordinary competence and little or no bravado, saying, "Wow, look at this neat shit that no one ever knew/ever saw before!"

    And, it's always nice when you can let the kids out to play.

    1. Red Bren
      Childcatcher

      @Pliny

      "speaking as a baby bummer"

      I don't think that means what you think it means...

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: @Pliny

        I think he knew exactly what he meant...

        Couldn't deceide whether to use the 'thumbs up' or the 'pint' icon, so 'have a nice day'.

  12. Fungus Bob Silver badge
    Coat

    we’re seeing energetic electrons where we don’t think they should be

    Maybe Red Bull gave them wings...

  13. picturethis
    Alien

    Reminds me of...

    the quandry around the EM-Drive:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EmDrive

    Maybe when (if) they figure this one out, they'll have a leg up on how/if the EM-Drive actually does what is claimed that it does.

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