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New magnetosphere data are obtained

GREENBELT, Md., March 15 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say NASA's THEMIS mission's spacecraft have returned the first data on how charged solar wind particles shape Earth's magnetosphere.

THEMIS consists of five spacecraft utilizing solid-state telescopes that were built with detectors fabricated at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They were developed by scientists in Austria, Germany and France to study conditions in Earth's magnetosphere that cause auroral disturbances.

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The first National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission comprised of five coordinated spacecraft were launched Feb. 17 from Cape Canaveral aboard a single rocket. Eventually the five will study the mysterious eruptions in Earth's Northern and Southern Lights known as "substorms" but first they must achieve widely separated orbits -- a process that will take several months.

An acronym for Time History of Events and Macroscopic Interactions during Substorms, THEMIS is designed to obtain the evidence needed to solve what principal investigator Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California-Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory calls "a nagging question that the field has to resolve" -- namely, competing theories about where auroral substorms originate in the magnetosphere.

THEMIS is managed by NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

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