New findings indicate Earth's magnetosphere, which protects us from solar wind, has two large holes. Scientists were taken by surprise by these findings, as they had a completely different theory about how solar particles enter our planet's magnetic field.
Understanding how these holes form will help them better predict the electrical storms that cause power grid blackouts and the aurora, activity that will peak in 2012 as sunspots hit their maximum level.
Scientists at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco said they had been entirely wrong about how solar particles that cause the storms were entering the Earth's magnetosphere.
The magnetosphere is a bubble of magnetism that surrounds Earth and protects us from solar wind.
Scientists once believed that the particles entered when the sun's magnetic field was aligned opposite to that of the Earth's. But findings presented at the meeting show that 20 times more solar particles enter the Earth's magnetic field when it is aligned in the same direction as the sun's magnetic field.
The alignment causes the two magnetic fields to connect and tears holes in the Earth's magnetic field over the poles.