Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Solar Storms Can Change Directions, Surprising Forecasters
by Dr. Tony Phillips
Hunstville AL (SPX) Sep 23, 2010

A coronal mass ejection (CME) observed by STEREO on Dec. 12, 2008.

Solar storms don't always travel in a straight line. But once they start heading in our direction, they can accelerate rapidly, gathering steam for a harder hit on Earth's magnetic field.

So say researchers who have been using data from NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft to unravel the 3D structure of solar storms. Their findings are presented in Nature Communications.

"This really surprised us," says co-author Peter Gallagher of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. "Solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can start out going one way-and then turn in a different direction."

The result was so strange, at first they thought they'd done something wrong. After double- and triple-checking their work on dozens of eruptions, however, the team knew they were onto something.

"Our 3D visualizations clearly show that solar storms can be deflected from high solar latitudes and end up hitting planets they might otherwise have missed," says lead author Jason Byrne, a graduate student at the Trinity Center for High Performance Computing. The key to their analysis was an innovative computing technique called "multiscale image processing." Gallagher explains:

"'Multiscale processing' means taking an image and sorting the things in it according to size. Suppose you're interested in race cars. If you have a photo that contains a bowl of fruit, a person, and a dragster, you could use multiscale processing to single out the race car and study its characteristics."

In medical research, multiscale processing has been used to identify individual nuclei in crowded pictures of cells. In astronomy, it comes in handy for picking galaxies out of a busy star field. Gallagher and colleagues are the first to refine and use it in the realm of solar physics.

"We applied the multiscale technique to coronagraph data from NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft," Gallagher continues. "Our computer was able to look at starry images cluttered with streamers and bright knots of solar wind and zero in on the CMEs."

STEREO-A and STEREO-B are widely separated and can see CMEs from different points of view. This allowed the team to create fully-stereoscopic models of the storm clouds and track them as they billowed away from the sun.

One of the first things they noticed was how CMEs trying to go "up"-out of the plane of the solar system and away from the planets-are turned back down again. Gallagher confesses that they had to "crack the books" and spend some time at the white board to fully understand the phenomenon. In the end, the explanation was simple:

The sun's global magnetic field, which is shaped like a bar magnet, guides the wayward CMEs back toward the sun's equator. When the clouds reach low latitudes, they get caught up in the solar wind and head out toward the planets-"like a cork bobbing along a river," says Gallagher.

Once a CME is embedded in the solar wind, it can experience significant acceleration. "This is a result of aerodynamic drag," says Byrne. "If the wind is blowing fast enough, it drags the CME along with it-something we actually observed in the STEREO data."

Past studies from other missions had revealed tantalizing hints of this CME-redirection and acceleration process, but STEREO is the first to see it unfold from nearly beginning to end.

"The ability to reconstruct the path of a solar storm through space could be of great benefit to forecasters of space weather at Earth," notes Alex Young, STEREO Senior Scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Knowing when a CME will arrive is crucial for predicting the onset of geomagnetic storms."

"Furthermore," he says, "the image processing techniques developed by the Trinity team in collaboration with NASA Goddard can be used in applications ranging from surveillance to medical diagnostics."

To learn more about zig-zagging CMEs and the advanced computing techniques used to track them, read "Propagation of an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection in three dimensions" by Byrne et al in the Sept. 21, 2010, issue of Nature Communications.


Related Links
STEREO - Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

CfA Will Play Major Role In Mission To Touch Sun
Boston MA (SPX) Sep 17, 2010
When NASA's Solar Probe Plus (SPP) launches before the end of the decade, it will carry a suite of cutting-edge scientific instruments. Only one - the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) Investigation - will directly sample the Sun's outer atmosphere. Designed by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), part of SWEAP will extend beyond the probe's he ... read more

Watch Out For The Super Harvest Moon

Water on Moon is bad news for China's lunar telescope

New Insights Into The Moon's Rich Geologic Complexity

Astrium Investigates Automatic Landing At The Moon's South Pole

Martian Moon Phobos May Have Formed by Catastrophic Blast

First Results From Herschel Mars Observations

Peculiar Phenomena During Northern Spring On Mars

Opportunity Approaching Possible Meteorite

Synthetic Life Could Aid Space Exploration

Soyuz Spacecraft Upgrade Ups Payload By 70 Kg

Glitch delays space station crew's return to Earth

Desert RATS In The Field

China keeps up busy space launch schedule

Space-Age Device To Deliver More Efficient Health Care On Earth And Above

China Launches New Satellite

China's Second Lunar Probe Chang'e-2 To Reach Lunar Orbit Faster Than Chang'e-1

Spacecraft with three cosmonauts undocks after delay

Glitch delays space station crew's return to Earth

Soyuz TMA-18 Spaceship To Return To Earth Friday

Departure Preps And Handover Activities For ISS Crew

LockMart And ATK Athena Launch Vehicles Selected As A NASA Launch Services Provider

Sirius XM-5 Satellite Delivered To Baikonur For October Launch

Emerging Technologies May Fuel Revolutionary Launcher

EUMETSAT Chooses Arianespace To Launch Metop-C

This Planet Smells Funny

Scientists looking to spot alien oceans

Deadly Tides Mean Early Exit For Hot Jupiters

Can We Spot Volcanoes On Alien Worlds

Gates tops list of richest Americans, Zuckerberg 35th

FCC frees up spectrum for super-fast wireless

Japan trading firms say China blocked rare earths exports

Newspaper publishers want control over iPad subscriptions

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement