UD professor co-authors first report on NASA's huge 'magnetospheric' mission - Technical.ly Delaware

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May 19, 2016 10:29 am

UD professor co-authors first report on NASA’s huge ‘magnetospheric’ mission

“This is going to dominate my research field for many years,” said UD professor Michael Shay. “And we’ll still be looking at the data in 20 years.”

A NASA-created image of Earth's magnetic field.

(Photo by Flickr user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, used under a Creative Commons license)

Two University of Delaware astronomy and physics professors are involved in a NASA project that gives a whole new meaning to “big data.”

They’re part of NASA’s $1 billion Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), which was first launched in March 2015 and seeks to find out more about magnetic reconnection at the point where the Earth’s magnetic sphere collides with the sun’s, according to a story from UDaily.

Here’s a video by professors William Matthaeus and Michael Shay explaining the concept in a bit more detail:

The scientists involved have been getting loads of data back from the four-spacecraft mission, and they published their first analysis of findings last week in Science. Shay is one of the authors.

That first report is about just one event at that point in space, Shay said, and the results showed more similarities to computer-based projections of what scientists thought happened there than had been expected. Go figure.

The four ships, which fly in formation, feature plasma analyzers, energetic particle detectors, magnetometers and electric field instruments, UDaily reported. Those awesome-sounding instruments have been gathering data that measure plasma and magnetic fields in a specific two-kilometer-wide area that moves at speeds of 50 kilometers per second (that’s the hotspot where the Earth’s magnetic field and solar wind meet).

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There’s a slight snag, though: Only 4 percent of the data collected can be sent back to Earth. That means scientists have to be very choosy about the data they transmit. To help with the process, an automated system scans for certain important patterns, and a scientist then does another evaluation before deciding the data is worthy of transmission.

“This is going to dominate my research field for many years,” Shay told UDaily. “And we’ll still be looking at the data in 20 years.”

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Lindsay Podraza

Lindsay Podraza is formerly the lead reporter for Technical.ly Delaware in after writing as a contributor. She is an ex-newspaper reporter turned freelance writer who moved to Wilmington in June 2014. The Charlotte native studied journalism at the University of North Carolina, loves proper grammar and has a weakness for sweet tea.

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