EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 420, Number 2, June III 2004
Page(s) L15 - L18
Section Letters
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20040154

A&A 420, L15-L18 (2004)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20040154


Solar wind induced magnetic field around the unmagnetized Earth

G. T. Birk1, H. Lesch1 and C. Konz2

1  Institut für Astronomie and Astrophysik, Universität München, Scheinerstr 1, 81679 München, Germany
2  Max-Planck-Institute for Plasma Physics, Garching, Germany

(Received 9 February 2004 / Accepted 28 April 2004 )

The Earth is a planet with a dipolar magnetic field which is agitated by a magnetized plasma wind streaming from the Sun. The magnetic field shields the Earth's surface from penetrating high energy solar wind particles, as well as interstellar cosmic rays. The magnetic dipole has reversed sign some hundreds of times over the last 400 million years. These polarity reversals correspond to drastic breakdowns of the dynamo action. The question arises what the consequences for the Earth's atmosphere, climate, and, in particular, biosphere are. It is shown by kinematic estimates and three-dimensional plasma-neutral gas simulations that the solar wind can induce very fast a magnetic field in the previously completely unmagnetized Earth's ionosphere that is strong enough to protect Earth from cosmic radiations comparable to the case of an intact magnetic dynamo.

Key words: Earth -- solar wind -- solar-terrestrial relations -- magnetic fields -- magnetohydrodynamics

Offprint request: G. T. Birk, birk@usm.uni-muenchen.de

© ESO 2004