Canadian instruments aboard satellite launched to study Earth’s magnetic field

TORONTO – Three European Space Agency (ESA) satellites that will study the Earth’s magnetic field were launched from the Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russian Friday morning.

The satellites, known collectively as Swarm, will monitor Earth’s magnetic field for four years, right from the core to the upper atmosphere.

Though headed by the ESA, Canada has made significant contributions to these satellites.

Read more: Canadian Space Agency developing 10-year plan

The Earth’s magnetic field. Although scientists understand that it generates from several sources, exactly how or why it changes is not fully understood. (ESA). ESA/ATG Medialab

According to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), “the Swarm satellites carry a comprehensive range of new-generation instruments to deliver highly accurate data to advance our knowledge of Earth’s magnetic field.”

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The Canadian company COM DEV built an instrument that is positioned in front of each satellite. It will measure the density of plasma (a type of electrically-charged gas) and winds in our ionosphere, helping scientists to gain a better understanding of the electric field that envelops Earth. It also carries a thermal-ion imager that was developed by the University of Calgary.

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Two of the satellites will fly side-by-side about 150 km apart at the equator at an altitude of about 460 km. The third satellite will orbit at 530 km.

The magnetic field protects us from harsh particles that are ejected from the sun, as well as cosmic radiation.

VIDEO: Understanding Earth’s magnetic field

Scientists hope to gain unprecedented insight into the workings of the magnetic field and understand why it continues to weaken.


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