We’ve all marveled at footage of coronal mass ejections, but scientists now think they have a better understanding of what causes these dramatic events on our star. Using imagery from NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory, researchers at George Mason University believe that massive “magnetic ropes” are the culprits behind solar storms.
For those unfamiliar, a magnetic rope is formed by magnetic field lines that get wrapped around a central axis. The whole mess of magnetism begins twisting, which could create an electrical charge. The end result is a powerful force applied to the surface of the sun, which heats the region affected by the rope to some 10 million degrees. When the heat and electro-magnetic force is large enough, an eruption occurs sending out a plume of energy and material into space.
Understanding the forces behind these eruptions is important here on Earth, especially in the digital age. Though our planet’s own magnetic field shields us from the full force of solar storms, powerful ones can affect unprotected satellites which in turn could cripple global communications and GPS. By better understanding solar storms, scientists aim to be able to predict them with greater accuracy, hopefully giving us and satellites time to take precautions against them.
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