NASA is boasting that it's been able to fly four giant satellites around our home in the "tightest" formation ever attempted in space. The quartet of craft are just six miles apart, and comprise the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, a project to measure Earth's magnetic fields as they swirl around us. In order to fully understand how the magnetosphere works in three-dimensional space, the satellites had to be guided to fly in the shape of a four-sided pyramid. Now, if you're struggling to see why this is such a big deal, remember that each satellite is the size of a baseball field and each one is hurtling through the abyss at 15,000 miles per hour.
Now that the craft are in formation, they can begin examining the magnetic and electrical fields that surround the planet. Like the way waves from the sea lap against a beach, NASA believes that solar winds carry magnetic fields that bounce against the magnetosphere. When this happens, it's thought that the reaction causes such a release of energy that particles can be accelerated to something close to the speed of light. Hell, it might be that spacecraft of the future are like surfers, bouncing around waiting for the next big wave to take them into the stars.
[Image Credit: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center]