NASA's latest exploration reveals "a breach in Earth's magnetic field ten times larger than anything previously thought to exist." Five space probes from the THEMIS mission (time history of events and macroscale interactions during substorms) flew through the opening and recorded "a torrent of solar wind particles streaming into the magnetosphere, signaling an event of unexpected size and importance." The opening was created by magnetic reconnection, when terrestrial and solar magnetic fields press against each other and crack open the magnetosphere. In this case, the conduits of solar wind from Earth's North and South Poles overlapped at the equator to create this unprecedented breach.

While the solar winds don't necessarily trigger geomagnetic storms themselves, they do load the magnetic field with plasma, which is linked to the auroras, power outages, and satellite disturbances that directly affect us. The Solar Storm Watch could become more important as we enter Solar Cycle 24, during which it is more likely that solar winds will load the magnetosphere with plasma just before a geomagnetic storm. According to space physicists, this increase in solar winds and plasma levels could create "the perfect sequence for a really big event," possibly stronger storms that are more disruptive of satellite activity and power supply.

image: "Magnetosphere" by Zengwen 1966 on Flickr by Creative Commons licensing.