Extremely sunny: How magnetic explosions can affect space weather

Space Science
sun magnetic reconnection

The highlighted area shows the point of magnetic reconnection above the solar surface.

MYSTERY WIRE — A magnetic explosion on the sun put on a display like we’ve never seen before, and what scientists learned could help us better predict the weather in space.

Following an eruption that sent a large loop of material out from the surface, instruments on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded what is called magnetic reconnection.

As the material fell back toward the surface, it encountered forces in the sun’s magnetic field, setting off a massive explosion as the tangled magnetic field realigned.

It’s the first time scientists have seen an eruption cause such a magnetic mess.

The eruption that started it all is called a “prominence.” Similar to a solar flare, a prominence can cause problems in communication systems on Earth.

An article on NASA.gov details what scientists hope to learn:

While a prominence was the driver behind this reconnection event, other solar eruptions like flares and coronal mass ejections, could also cause forced reconnection. Since these eruptions drive space weather — the bursts of solar radiation that can damage satellites around Earth — understanding forced reconnection can help modelers better predict when disruptive high-energy charged particles might come speeding at Earth.

solar surface

The eruption and the magnetic reconnection were recorded in 2012 from the solar observatory. The events confirmed theories formed in 2004.

Instruments on the observatory allowed scientists to watch the eruption and explosion in different wavelengths of light. At one point, an “X” pattern appeared when the magnetic fields collided.

Scientists believe the energy released during magnetic reconnection could explain why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than layers below. An abstract of the study is available here.

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