The Earth’s Magnetosphere

In spite of its low density, the solar wind, and its accompanying magnet field, is strong enough to interact with the planets and their magnetic fields to shape magnetospheres. A magnetosphere is the region surrounding a planet where the planet’s magnetic field dominates. Because the ions in the solar plasma are charged, they interact with these magnetic fields, and solar wind particles are swept around planetary magnetospheres. Life on Earth has developed under the protection of this magnetosphere.
The shape of the Earth’s magnetosphere is the direct result of being blasted by solar wind. Solar wind compresses its sunward side to a distance of only 6 to 10 times the radius of the Earth. A supersonic shock wave is created sunward of Earth somewhat like a sonic boom. This shock wave is called the bow shock. Most of the solar wind particles are heated and slowed at the bow shock and detour around the Earth. Solar wind drags out the night-side magnetosphere to possibly 1000 times Earth’s radius; its exact length is not known. This extension of the magnetosphere is known as the magnetotail. Many other planets in our solar system have magnetospheres of similar, solar wind-influenced shapes.