Earth is one of the magnetized planets. Earth’s intrinsic magnetic field is generated by electric currents inside the outer core and it has the S and N poles at the north and south poles, respectively, as can be seen from the fact that the
needles of compasses point to the north almost everywhere on the ground. (Figure 1)。
The motion of charged particles such as electrons and ions (plasmas) is changed by Earth’s magnetic field. As a result, high-energy charged particles associated with cosmic rays and proton phenomena (SEPs *1) cannot easily reach
the middle- and low-latitude regions (Figure 2). In other words, Earth's magnetic field acts as a barrier to such high-energy particles in the outer space.
Earth's magnetic field does not extend infinitely but is deformed by solar wind (the supersonic wind consisting of plasma and a magnetic field arriving from the sun), forming a cometlike structure. We call this structure Earth's magnetosphere
(Figure 3). The condition of the magnetosphere is markedly changed by the solar wind.
*1 SEP=Solar Energetic Particles
The efficiency of energy input from the solar wind to the magnetosphere is mainly controlled by the direction of the magnetic field carried by the solar wind, i.e., IMF*1. Earth’s magnetic field lines are northward except at the
northern and southern poles, extending from the southern hemisphere and entering the northern hemisphere, because Earth’s intrinsic magnetic field has S and N poles at the north and south poles, respectively, as noted above. When the IMF
arriving at the dayside magnetosphere is directed northward, Earth’s magnetic field and the IMF do not interact significantly, although they approach each other at the magnetopause. In this case, similarly to the relationship between objects
and flow fields, the solar wind flows around the magnetosphere toward the nightside. However, when the IMF arriving at the dayside magnetosphere is directed southward, Earth’s magnetic field and the IMF become antiparallel, resulting in
the merging between the field lines, that is, ‘magnetic reconnection’. As a result, magnetic field lines, one end of which is connected to the IMF and the other end of which is grounded Earth, are created. We call such field lines ‘open
field lines’, while we call magnetic field lines with both ends grounded to Earth ‘closed field lines.’
Open field lines are carried toward the nightside by the solar wind, while their one ends remain grounded to Earth. In the distant magnetotail, open field lines from the northern and southern hemispheres gradually approach each other, resulting
a situation that antiparallel field lines approach each other similarly to those in the dayside. Magnetic reconnection occurs again there. As a result, a pair of open field lines originating from the northern and southern hemispheres merge
again and become a closed field line with both ends grounded to Earth. The newly created closed field line returns toward Earth and eventually toward the dayside owing to the magnetic tension force, which acts so as to recover from the
stretched configuration to the original dipole field. In this way, the dayside magnetic field carried toward the nightside is replaced.
Plasmas inside the magnetosphere move together with the magnetic field. This circulation of plasmas and the magnetic field is called ‘magnetospheric convection’ (Figure 4). In this way, the solar wind energy effectively flows into the magnetosphere
and drives the large-scale convection. This does not imply that no solar wind energy flows into the magnetosphere during the northward IMF. It is considered that the solar wind energy can flow into the magnetosphere owing to the viscosity
between the solar wind plasmas and the magnetospheric plasmas regardless of the IMF direction. However, it is generally considered that the energy input by the magnetic reconnection is much larger than that by the viscous interaction.
*1 IMF = Interplanetary Magnetic Field
The phenomenon causing greatest disturbance in the magnetosphere is called a ‘geomagnetic storm’. It occurs when a vast amount of solar wind energy is injected into the magnetosphere by a strong southward IMF*1 and high-speed solar
wind. It is accompanied by various phenomena such as the promotion of magnetospheric convection, multiple occurrences of large aurora storms, increased plasma injection into the inner magnetosphere, acceleration/thermalization of plasma
particles in the inner magnetosphere, which enhance the ring current, and disappearance/restoration of the radiation belt.
Geomagnetic storms are categorized into two types depending on the solar wind structure that generates it. One is generated by CME*2. The other is generated by high-speed solar wind originating from the coronal hole. A strong
shock wave is mostly formed in front of the magnetic cloud of a CME because the high-speed flow of the CME sweeps the low-speed solar wind. When it collides with the magnetosphere, it compresses the magnetosphere rapidly. The scale of
the geomagnetic storm depends on the strength of the IMF and whether or not the IMF direction is southward in a magnetic cloud. Because the magnetic polarity of the IMF rotates from northward to southward through a magnetic cloud, a geomagnetic
storm occurs in many cases when the CME collides with the magnetosphere. However, when the CME or solar wind does not increase in speed and the southward IMF is relatively weak, no geomagnetic storm occurs.
Additionally, geomagnetic storms with or without the compression of the magnetosphere are called ‘sudden commencement types’ and ‘gradual commencement types’, respectively. The development of a ring current is indicated by a decrease in
the north-south geomagnetic field component at low and middle latitudes, as shown in Figure 5.
*1 IMF = Interplanetary Magnetic Field
*2 CME = Coronal Mass Ejection
The region where high-energy electrons and ions are trapped in the magnetosphere is called the ‘radiation belt’ (Van Allen belt). The radiation belt consists of an inner belt that is distributed around an altitude of 3,000 km and an outer
belt that is distributed around an altitude of 20,000 km in the equatorial plane, as shown in Figure 6.
High-energy ions are mainly distributed in the inner radiation belt and high-energy electrons are distributed in the outer radiation belt. The outer radiation belt expands to a geostationary orbit where many artificial satellites are in
operation. The radiation belt is not stable and changes depending on the space environment conditions. In particular, the flux of high-energy particles in the outer belt changes in the range of a few orders of magnitude depending on the
solar wind condition, and the high-energy particles sometimes damage artificial satellites.