NASA’s TRACERS Mission Passes Critical Milestone, Advances Toward Launch

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TRACERS Satellites in Space

Illustration of the TRACERS satellites in space. TRACERS will fly through the Earth’s magnetic cusp to study magnetic interactions between Earth and the solar wind. Credit: NASA

Solar Wind Streaming Around Earth's Magnetosphere

Earth is protected by a giant magnetic bubble known as our magnetosphere. However, the solar wind can still impinge on our planet’s atmosphere through the polar cusps, two funnels in that magnetic field that allow some particles through. The particles that pass through the cusp carry signatures of the magnetic interactions that happen where the solar wind meets our magnetosphere. Credit: ASA/CILab/Josh Masters

“Magnetic reconnection can happen in lots of places in the magnetopause, but it’s hard to survey such a giant search space,” Kletzing said. “The cusp is one place where can study the signatures of reconnection that happen all over.”

TRACERS will repeatedly fly through the northern polar cusp, one satellite behind the other, to study where and how often reconnection happens at the outer edges of Earth’s magnetic field. These measurements are critical for understanding and eventually predicting how energy from our Sun transfers into our planet.

TRACERS is led by Craig Kletzing at the University of Iowa and managed by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. NASA’s Heliophysics Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides mission oversight to the project for the agency’s Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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