Feeds

Sun spits out tiny squirt of plasma

Smallest ever coronal mass ejection

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

A new approach to endpoint data protection

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

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?