27 November 2019

You probably know that I'm a bit of a Nordophile. I lived in Norway for three years, but sadly never got to visit the archipelago of Svalbard up near the North Pole. This is, you may recall, the location of Brage Bærheim's astroterrestrial photo that I featured a while back.

It seems there is a weak point (what that means I'm not sure) in the Earth's magnetic field near Ny-Ålesund, a settlement on the West side of Svalbard. During auroras, the solar wind gets in through this weak point and interacts with the atmosphere, ionising it and drawing some of it out into space along the magnetic field.

A while back, scientists at Ny-Ålesund launched two sounding rockets into an aurora. They were able to take readings in a very narrow time period, and gathered data about what they call the "atmospheric fountain".

That study is ongoing. However what they do know is that the amount of atmosphere lost into space is only a tiny proportion of the whole. What's more, plant photosynthesis replenishes any atmospheric oxygen lost.

While it wasn't a priority, another benefit of launching two sounding rockets was to provide the coolest launch photo ever.

Finally, I don't know about you, but I have a complex relationship with clickbait. This is a headline that you see that drags you in, only for you to find that the headline really isn't related to the content, or is ridiculously over-hyped.

My relationship is "complex", because I can't help dreaming up clickbait headlines for stories I read. This story is a sitting duck.

One website reported this story under the headline "Did you know that the Earth loses several hundred tons of atmosphere to space every day?" I'd hardly call this clickbait, and I think they could have done so much better.

"Earth's atmosphere sucked out into space in solar storm: when will the Big One hit?"

What do you think?

Image Credit: Allison Stancil-Ervin of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility