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Minnesota West enters magnetometer field

WORTHINGTON -- From upper Canada to lower Mexico, magnetometers form a long line diagnosing waves in space.

One of those scientific devices now rests at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington. It's one small piece of a large project designed to detect perturbations (fluctuations) in the earth's magnetic field. Peter Chi, associate research geophysicist from the UCLA Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics, installed Worthington's magnetometer Wednesday with the help of West physics, mathematics and pre-engineering instructor Richard Dalrymple.

"The purpose is that those small fluctuations in the magnetic field basically come from space," Chi said. "We want to look at those waves to understand the conditions in space.

"It's a diagnostic technique. ... In the outer space, above the ionosphere, there are particles," he continued. "Those particles come from the ionosphere and also the sun. The solar activity changes with time. A lot of changes could happen in outer space. The electromagnetic field actually affects the satellites in space."

What's the practical application of the project?

"To be able to monitor space weather so that can provide some prediction," he answered. "The operations of satellites can be made according to those predictions."

Chi added that research results can also help predict when a magnetic storm might occur.

North America is the only contiguous continent that spans from low to high magnetic latitudes, and its mid-longitude region is perfect for space weather research. Worthington was chosen to participate in the UCLA project because of its advantageous location midway between Minneapolis and Omaha, Neb.

Data is recorded through a magnetic field sensor buried underground on campus. That information is then transferred via cable to a GPS satellite receiver, whereupon it is sent to a computer screen.

The worldwide research project could continue for four more years, depending on funding.

For Minnesota West, the benefits of magnetometer research are direct, as students will be able to access all research information as it's recorded. Dalrymple hopes the project might inspire students to enter space science and aeronautical engineering fields.

"I'm pretty excited about it, especially the learning part of it," he said Wednesday. "I'm hoping it'll spur interest in physics. I have a couple of students who'll eat this up."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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