The process of magnetic field line reconnection, in which the magnetic field lines in a plasma snap apart and violently reconnect, transforms magnetic field energy into particle energy. Little was known about this phenomenon that is known most prominently in the form of solar flares on the surface of the sun. The subsequent geomagnetic storms on earth have demonstrated how much energy can be released by magnetic reconnection.
In the research conducted on the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at PPPL, scientists measured experimentally the amount of magnetic energy that turns into particle energy. They showed that reconnection converts about 50 percent of the magnetic energy in the plasma, with one-third of the conversion heating the electrons and two-thirds accelerating the ions.
The findings also suggested the process by which the energy conversion occurs. According to the researchers, reconnection first propels and energizes the electrons, which creates an electrically charged field that becomes the primary energy source for the ions.