A new study describes the first observations of the process of electron heating in Earth's bow shock -- the effect created by Earth as it passes through solar wind. The researchers found that when electrons in the solar wind encounter the bow shock, they momentarily accelerate to such a high speed that the electron stream becomes unstable and breaks down. This breakdown process robs the electrons of their high speed and converts the energy to heat. The study's results add an important new dimension to scientists' understanding of Earth's magnetic field and its ability to protect the planet from harmful particles and radiation.
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