Feeds

Sun spits out tiny squirt of plasma

Smallest ever coronal mass ejection

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

The smallest coronal mass ejection ever observed has caught solar physicists totally by surprise, and reveals just how limited our understanding is of how these eruptions of solar material are generated.

A coronal mass ejection is an explosion inside the sun that ejects a huge quantity of plasma into space. The plasma, composed of highly energetic particles, streams outwards, sometime striking Earth, where it can create stunning Aurorae, interfere with satellites in orbit, and in severe cases, can even knock out electricity supplies.

A miniature coronal mass ejection

Normally, these ejections are enormous events, thought to begin in areas of the sun where the magnetic field lines are destabilised into twisted loops which contain a lot of energy. Typically, these areas span millions of square miles of the sun's surface. But researchers have now seen an ejection emerge from an area just 10,000 miles across.

Although the ejection was small, it was energetic enough to reach earth. The international team of astronomers responsible for the discovery says that the magnetic field lines in its area of origin were ten times more twisted than is usually seen in larger areas.

"Previously coronal mass ejections were thought to be huge, involving massive portions of the Sun's magnetic field and all the theoretical models are based around this assumption," commented Mullard Space Science Laboratory's Dr Lucie Green.

"However, this one was amazing in that it came from a tiny magnetic region on the Sun which would normally have been overlooked in the search for CME source regions. This will be an exciting area for further study."

Gaining a decent understanding of how coronal mass ejections are formed is vital to space scientists because they form the basis of space weather. The particles launched into space can wreak havoc, and cause serious harm to astronauts in orbit when they hit, so we need to e able to make good predictions of when they will occur.

Existing models for coronal mass ejections are all based on the large scale event normally observed, and scientists don't know for sure how much of an effect smaller events like this one actually have on space weather. Future missions, such as the planned joint US-UK-Japanese mission Solar B, should shed more light on this area. ®

Related stories

Astronomers spot fun-sized solar system
Green light for tests on really big telescope designs
Heat treatment straightens out MARSIS boom

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Rosetta probot drilling DENIED: Philae has its 'LEG in the AIR'
NOT best position for scientific fulfillment
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rocking boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball
That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence
Download Choosing a Cloud Hosting Provider with Confidence to learn more about cloud computing - the new opportunities and new security challenges.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.