Scientists see solar outburst in exquisite detail

April 20, 2011
The following images chart the progress of the CME as it travelled from the Sun towards the Earth on 19 and 20 March 2010. All four are visible light images made with the HI instrument on STEREO. The x-axis of each image corresponds to a distance of 48 million km from left to right. Credit: Anthony Williams / NASA / Richard Harrison

(PhysOrg.com) -- The largest disturbances to the Earth's geomagnetic environment occur when it is buffeted by solar material hurled in our direction by explosive changes in the Sun's atmosphere. These Coronal Mass Ejections or CMEs contain approximately a billion tonnes of ionized gas or plasma and can have a dramatic and damaging impact on everything from satellites to power grids.

Now a team of scientists have used two spacecraft to study these events in unprecedented detail. Graduate student Anthony Williams of the University of Leicester presented their results on Tuesday 19 April at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

The video will load shortly.
Credit: Anthony Williams/NASA/Richard Harrison

Mr. Williams and his team used the Heliospheric Imagers (HI) on the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft to examine the of an Earth-impacting CME – seen as sunlight scattered from high density blobs of – as it travels outwards from the Sun. They compared this with the internal structure measured in situ by the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft as the CME engulfed the spacecraft and impacted the . This meant that the scientists have for the first time been able to compare the evolution of the CME structure as it races towards the Earth and the internal structure observed as it arrives.

The CME studied was ejected from the Sun on 19 March 2010, when the STEREO A spacecraft was in a position to watch from the side as the CME hurtled outwards towards the Earth.  The structure of the CME was examined in HI images spanning a distance of approximately 48 million km at different distances between the and the Earth.  Analysing the images indicated that its speed was close to 350 km per second, which allowed its time of impact on the Earth to be predicted some 3 days after the initial ejection.

The results indicate that the CME structure evolves considerably on its outward journey, and that the internal structure can be difficult to predict from the images. And there is another key facet to this work – imaging CMEs with like STEREO is an extremely effective means of forecasting their impact on Earth and the large scale disruption that can sometimes result.

Explore further: STEREO Reveals Solar Storm Related to Failure Aboard Communications Satellite

Related Stories

Scientists weather a space storm to find its origin

August 2, 2005

A team of researchers from the UK and France used SOHO, ACE and the four Cluster spacecraft to study a huge eruption on the Sun, tracing its progress from birth to when it reached Earth.

STEREO Reveals the Anatomy of a Solar Storm in 3D

April 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Observations from NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft have allowed scientists to reveal for the first time the speed, trajectory, and three-dimensional shape of solar explosions ...

Sneak Attacks from the Sun

December 8, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Our Sun can be a menace when it sends out powerful solar blasts of radiation towards the Earth. Astronomers keenly watch the Sun to learn more about what powers these solar eruptions, in hopes of being able ...

The Surprising Shape of Solar Storms (w/Video)

April 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Twin NASA spacecraft have provided scientists with their first view of the speed, trajectory, and three-dimensional shape of powerful explosions from the sun known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. This ...

Recommended for you

Astronomers identify new asynchronous short period polar

October 16, 2017

(Phys.org)—An international team of astronomers led by Gagik H. Tovmassian of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has uncovered new details into the nature of a cataclysmic variable known as IGR J19552+0044. ...

The remarkable jet of the quasar 4C+19.44

October 16, 2017

Quasars are galaxies with massive black holes at their cores. So much energy is being radiated from near the nucleus of a quasar that it is much brighter than the rest of the entire galaxy. Much of that radiation is at radio ...

On the generation of solar spicules and Alfvenic waves

October 13, 2017

Combining computer observations and simulations, a new model shows that the presence of neutrals in the gas facilitates the magnetic fields to penetrate through the surface of the Sun producing the spicules. In this study, ...

Astronomers discover unusual spindle-like galaxies

October 12, 2017

Galaxies are majestic, rotating wheels of stars? Not in the case of the spindle-like galaxies studied by Athanasia Tsatsi (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and her colleagues. Using the CALIFA survey, the astronomers found ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (2) Apr 22, 2011
Thanks for information about studies of the Sun - Earth's heat source. Nothing could be of greater interest to the public.

For those interested in the many ways that our stormy Sun impacts Earth, I recommend:

1. The book: "The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began" by Stuart Clark

http://press.prin...370.html

2. "The Sun's origin, composition and source of energy", 32nd Lunar Science Conf. (2001):

http://www.omatumr.com/lpsc.prn.pdf" title="http://http://www.omatumr.com/lpsc.prn.pdf" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">http://www.omatum....prn.pdf

3. "Superfluidity in the solar interior: Implications for solar eruptions and climate",
Journal of Fusion Energy 21, 193-198 (2002):

http://arxiv.org/.../0501441

4. "Earth's Heat Source - The Sun", Energy & Environment 20, 131-144 (2009);

http://arxiv.org/pdf/0905.0704

5. "Neutron Repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages (2011);

http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://www.omatumr.com

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.