Eruptions on the Sun reveal truth about space weather

Taken by Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope on 20 November 2006, this image reveals the structure of the solar magnetic field rising vertically from a sunspot. Image credit: Hinode JAXA/Nasa
Date:21 March 2007 Tags:

The Sun’s magnetic field is much more turbulent and dynamic than previously known, according to images taken by the international spacecraft Hinode, formerly known as Solar B.

For the first time, we are now able to make out tiny granules of hot gas that rise and fall in the Sun’s magnetised atmosphere, said Dick Fisher, director of Nasa’s Heliophyics Division. “These images will open a new era of study on some of the Sun’s processes that effect Earth, astronauts, orbiting satellites and the solar system.”

Hinode’s three primary instruments, the Solar Optical Telescope, the X-ray Telescope and the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer, are observing the different layers of the Sun. Studies focus on the solar atmosphere from the visible surface of the Sun, known as the photosphere, to the corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun that extends outward into the solar system.

“By co-ordinating the measurements of all three instruments, Hinode is showing how changes in the structure of the magnetic field and the release of magnetic energy in the low atmosphere spread outward through the corona and into interplanetary space to create space weather,” said John Davis, project scientist from Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Centre, Huntsville, Ala.

Space weather involves the production of energetic particles and emissions of electromagnetic radiation. These bursts of energy can black out long-distance communications over entire continents and disrupt the global navigational system.

“Hinode images are revealing irrefutable evidence for the presence of turbulence-driven processes that are bringing magnetic fields, on all scales, to the Sun’s surface, resulting in an extremely dynamic chromosphere or gaseous envelope around the Sun,” said Alan Title, a corporate senior fellow at Lockheed Martin, Palo Alto, California.

“By following the evolution of the solar structures that outline the magnetic field before, during and after these explosive events, we hope to find clear evidence to establish that magnetic reconnection is the underlying cause for this explosive activity,” said Leon Golub of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

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