Articles

Plasma Motions in Planetary Magnetospheres

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Science  19 Apr 1991:
Vol. 252, Issue 5004, pp. 410-415
DOI: 10.1126/science.252.5004.410

Abstract

Before direct exploration by spacecraft, Jupiter was the only planet other than Earth that was known to have a magnetic field, as revealed by its nonthermal radio emissions. The term "magnetosphere" did not exist because there was no clear concept of such an entity. The space age provided the opportunity to explore Earth's neighborhood in space and to send instruments to seven of the other eight planets. It was found that interplanetary space is pervaded by a supersonic "solar wind" plasma and that six planets, including Earth, have magnetic fields of sufficient strength to deflect this solar wind and form a comet-shaped cavity called a magnetosphere. Comparative study of these magnetospheres aims to elucidate both the general principles and characteristics that they share in common, and the specific environmental factors that cause the important, and sometimes dramatic, differences in behavior between any two of them. A general understanding of planetary magnetospheres holds the promise of wide applicability in astrophysics, which, for the indefinite future, must rely solely on remote sensing for experimental data.