This is quite frankly an astounding feat of engineering but NASA's MMS mission has flown through a magnetic reconnection event - this is where titanic eruptions from the Sun slam into Earth's protective magnetic field and it snaps, releasing energy which we see as an aurora (at best, at worst it destroys our electricity grids!)
One of the most challenging computational puzzles and these observations will be key to understanding this physics. It's also the same physics that limits us in perfecting nuclear fusion power on Earth so something we can all hope is solved and soon!
Some huge stories this week (which I covered in theconversation as well as ABC Breakfast News) on ESA's Swarm satellites measuring the pulsing of the Earth's magnetic field, it's so called magnetic heartbeat. This then lead on to the topic of the magnetic poles swapping places (always a startling fact!) and then the measurements from Australian rocks that a younger Earth had a thinner atmosphere than today when we always had assumed it must have been thicker... These stories were so huge that the fact we found 1284 planets around other stars by NASA's Kepler satellite was left to the end!
I explained to Channel 10 that NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has seen the solar wind from the Sun strip Mars of 100g of atmosphere a second (that’s a quarter pounder burger of air). During solar storms this can increase 10x-15x as much meaning that the younger and more active Sun was easily capable of stripping Mars of it’s atmosphere. This turned Mars from a world of oceans 4bn years ago into the desolate desert it is today. It also highlights the importance of our magnetic field on Earth which protects us from a similar fate!