The Substorm

          by David P. Stern       (with apologies to Hilaire Belloc)


    The Substorm is a thing obscure
    We cannot make it out for sure
    But physicists with lots of nerve
    Fill in details they can't observe
    They see in it their own grand visions
    Of tearing modes with no collisions
    That squeeze away the plasma sheet
    To make opposing fluxes meet
    And in their merging, oh so swift
    Great plasmoids are cut adrift
    Or else the boundary is unfirm
    It likes to shimmy, twist and turn
    And as it moves in fast pulsation
    Gives the storm's acceleration
    Or maybe fireballs explode
    Or all comes from some hybrid mode
    Or maybe field line reconnection
    Is driven by the tail's convection
    Or by a catastrophe thermal
    Or waves with features quite abnormal...

    The satellites that cross the tail
    Can never see such fine details
    But scientists who ought to know
    Assure us that it must be so.
    Oh, let us never, never doubt
    What nobody is sure about!

[A guide for the perplexed: A magnetic substorm is an impulsive release of energy in the extended magnetic field of the Earth ("magnetosphere"), dragged out into a long nightside ("tail") by the solar wind. It manifests itself by a sudden burst of polar aurora and large electric currents in the Earth's ionosphere. Its mechanism has given rise to speculations (hinted at by the poem), but from isolated satellites occasionally traversing the tail it is hard to tell (here are some possible remedies). The poem is adapted from "The Microbe" by Belloc and shares the last two lines.]

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol) .

Last updated 1 June 2007