"Magnetic forms produce activity and violence in the otherwise serene thermal degradation of the cosmic landscape." -- E.N. Parker
The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is a Solar-Terrestrial Probe mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth's magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of magnetic reconnection, a fundamental plasma-physical process that converts magnetic energy into heat and the kinetic energy of charged particles.** In addition to seeking to solve the mystery of the small-scale physics of the reconnection process, MMS will also investigate how the energy conversion that occurs in magnetic reconnection accelerates particles to high energies and what role plasma turbulence plays in reconnection events.
These processes -- magnetic reconnection, particle acceleration, turbulence -- occur in all astrophysical plasma systems but can be studied in situ only in our solar system and most efficiently only in Earth's magnetosphere, where they control the dynamics of the geospace environment and play an important role in the phenomena known as "space weather."
SMART, for "Solving Magnetospheric Acceleration, Reconnection, and Turbulence," is the name of the MMS science investigation. SMART will be carried out by a team headed by Principal Investigator James L. Burch of Southwest Research Institute and consisting of researchers from a number of U.S. and foreign institutions.
The MMS spacecraft are being developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland. GSFC is also responsible for the overall management of the MMS mission and mission operations. MMS is scheduled for launch in 2014.
MMS was ranked as the
highest-priority moderate-size mission
in National Research Council's 2002
Solar and Space Physics Decadal Survey.
The fundamentals of reconnection, the history of the concept, and the outstanding questions about the workings of this universal process are the subject of "Reconnecting Magnetic Fields,"
an article by SMART PI Jim Burch and SMART Theory Team member Jim Drake (University of Maryland) in the September-October 2009 issue of "The American Scientist."