NASA launched four satellites on a 20-foot-tall rocket late last night from Cape Canaveral. The satellites are part of a billion dollar effort to study “magnetic reconnection”–when the planet’s magnetic field lines break apart and reconnect. Magnetic reconnection, which is not well understood, creates massive amounts of energy. “On the sun, magnetic reconnection unleashes solar flares, each as powerful as 1 million atomic bombs,” Reuters reports.
The four magnetospheric multiscale satellites will fly together into reconnection zones up to 95,000 miles above earth–or into the earth’s magnetosphere. The data from the four satellites will be combined, creating 3D pictures of the magnetic reconnection process. “The MMS mission will conduct a definitive experiment in space that will finally allow us to understand how magnetic reconnection works,” said lead researcher Jim Burch, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.