Rocket blasts off with NASA magnetic field probes

Updated: 2015-03-13 15:02


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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.- An Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Florida on Thursday with a quartet of NASA science satellites designed to map bursts of energy and charged particles triggered by criss-crossing magnetic fields around Earth.

The 20-story-tall rocket, built and launched by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:44 p.m. EDT (0244 GMT on Friday).

Perched atop the rocket were four identical satellites designed to fly in a pyramid formation high around Earth. The probes were successfully delivered into their initial orbits less than two hours after launch.

Each satellite is equipped with 25 sensors to record in split-second detail what happens when the planet's magnetic field lines break apart and reconnect. Data from the four probes will be combined to produce three-dimensional maps of the process.

Magnetic reconnection, as the phenomenon is known, is commonplace throughout the universe, but poorly understood.

Magnetic fields are generated by planets, stars, galaxies, black holes and other celestial objects. When field lines snap apart and reconnect, charged particles are sent soaring into space at nearly the speed of light, roughly 186,000 miles per second (300,000 km per second).

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