Earth is surrounded by a giant magnetic bubble called the magnetosphere. As it travels through space, a complex system of charged particles from the sun and magnetic structures piles up in front of it.

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Earth is surrounded by a giant magnetic bubble called the magnetosphere. As it travels through space, a complex system of charged particles from the sun and magnetic structures piles up in front of it. Scientists wish to better understand this area in front of the bow shock, known as the foreshock, as it can help explain how energy from the rest of space makes its way past this boundary into the magnetosphere. Credit: Credit: NASA/GSFC

As Earth moves around the sun, it travels surrounded by a giant bubble created by its own magnetic fields, called the magnetosphere. As the magnetosphere plows through space, it sets up a standing bow wave or bow shock, much like that in front of a moving ship. Just in front of this bow wave lies a complex, turbulent system called the foreshock. Conditions in the foreshock change in response to solar particles streaming in from the sun, moving magnetic fields and a host of waves, some fast, some slow, sweeping through the region.

To tease out what happens at that boundary of the magnetosphere and to better understand how radiation and energy from the sun can cross it and move closer to Earth, NASA launches spacecraft into this region to observe the changing conditions. From 1998 to 2002, NASA’s Wind spacecraft traveled through this foreshock region in front of Earth 17 times, providing new information about the physics there.

via NASA – NASA’s Wind Mission Encounters ‘SLAMS’ Waves.