mms nasa
An artistic take on NASA's MMS crafts in space. NASA

The human eye can’t see electrons even though they’re all around us all the time, but he highest energy electrons can actually damage satellites or cause auroras. Scientists with NASA have been studying electron activity in the hopes of better understanding what dictates their behavior.

They found the miniscule particles exhibit similar behaviors when they’re in particular settings. For example, those in a strong magnetic field spin in tight circles in the field. And those in fields where the direction is reversed, they exhibit less regimented movements like bouncing. But researchers just discovered what happens in an intermediate field.

Read: NASA News: Researchers Discover Source Of Flashes Coming Off Of Earth And Going Into Space

The research was published Wednesday in the Journal of Geophysical Research. It shows that in the intermediate strength fields, electrons move in a sort of hybrid way both spiraling and bouncing before leaving the area. This motion results in a loss of energy in the field and plays a part in magnetic reconnection, says NASA.

The irregular movements can be seen in this video from NASA where the field guides are included in the mapping of movement. These guides mean that the electric currents run in the same direction as the magnetic field.

What is magnetic reconnection?

Magnetic reconnection occurs when plasma lines in magnetic fields flowing oppositely break and then reconnect. Plasma is a mix of positively and negatively charged particles that make up most of observable space. This is what causes flares that eject energy into space, auroras and can cause other disruptions on Earth.

So the erratic movement of electrons in intermediate strength fields can cause this reconnection that researchers previously had little information on. These observation on electrons were gathered by NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission. It is made up of four spacecraft that are all the same and travel Earth’s orbit and travel through areas where reconnection takes place. The four craft, launched in 2015, travel in a pyramid form so that they can capture the data in three dimensions.

Read: NASA Budget Cuts: Senators Urge Trump Not To Slash Agency's Office Of Education

MMS is so sophisticated that as it travels through magnetic fields it counts electrons and ions and also takes measurements of the energies and the motion of those particles. The speed of reconnection is easier to predict with the data from MMS allowing researchers to predict the power of energy releases from the reconnection. This means a better chance at predicting cosmic events like shock waves.