Feeds

Sun spits out tiny squirt of plasma

Smallest ever coronal mass ejection

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
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.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.