Feeds

Sun spits out tiny squirt of plasma

Smallest ever coronal mass ejection

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

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

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
ALIEN BODY FOUND ON MARS: Curiosity rover snaps extraterrestrial
And NASA kept evidence to itself for over a month
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
NASA: ALIENS and NEW EARTHS will be ours inside 20 years
ETs, habitable planets will soon pop up with our new 'scopes
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.