Plasma clouds can provide early space weather warnings

April 14th, 2009 - 3:26 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 14 (ANI): A new research has suggested that scientists can get warnings of impending ionized gas bursts, which are a potential threat to satellites and power grids, through clouds of plasma in space.

Till now, the arrival of burps of hot ionized gas from the Sun, has been hard to predict, but the first images of an earthbound burst captured by two satellites simultaneously have shown that plasma clouds can give warnings 24 hours in advance that trouble is heading our way.

These clouds of plasma, called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), reflect sunlight and can sometimes be seen as expanding haloes around the sun.

Unfortunately, they are often faint, so CMEs travelling towards Earth are easily confused with material flowing out in other directions.

Now, according to a report in New Scientist, a demonstration using images from a pair of NASA spacecraft called STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) shows the mission can provide early warnings.

Launched in 2006, one of the STEREO craft is traveling ahead of Earth in its orbit while the other is lagging behind.

After a small CME hit Earth on 16 December 2008, Chris Davis of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Harwell, Oxfordshire, UK, and colleagues examined images taken in the preceding few days by wide-angle cameras called Heliospheric Imagers on the STEREO spacecraft.

Though the 16 December CME was too small to cause any damage, it appears clearly in images from each spacecraft (pictured) in the days leading up to its arrival at Earth.

“From both spacecraft, we were able to measure an angle which was consistent and showed it was heading towards Earth,” said Davis.

With a few upgrades to the imaging software so that relevant data could be analyzed in real time, the CME’s impact on Earth could be predicted 24 hours before its arrival, according to the team.

“It’s really quite an advance,” said Howard Singer of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

“We’ll be able to use this data and this technique to give forecasts that are far superior to what we’ve had before,” he added. (ANI)

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