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Desert Diary
Physics/Magnetic Storm


If you want a matchless view of the heavens, the desert is ideal. The clear air seems to bring the stars closer than almost anywhere else. The star-studded night skies bring almost anyone a feeling of peace and serenity. But astrophysicists know a few things that many of us don't. That peaceful looking sky is swept with deadly energies—energies dangerous to astronauts, satellites, and electrical grids.

Some of the most dangerous energies hurtling through space are produced by our own, seemingly placid, sun. Of course, the fact that it's about 93 million miles away has something to do with its apparently benign countenance. In truth, the violent processes of nuclear fusion and entangled magnetic fields dwarf anything ever seen on earth. Magnetic storms fling great masses of gases bearing electrical charges into space. When intercepted by the earth, look out! But as with volcanos and wildfires, there often is beauty encased in the violence. In the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, exceptionally violent events light up the northern sky with beauty—a rare glimpse of the aurora borealis.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.