NASA spacecraft unravels anatomy of solar tsunami in 3D

April 15th, 2009 - 4:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 15 (IANS) A NASA spacecraft provided scientists with their very first view of the speed, trajectory and three-dimensional shape of powerful detonations from the sun known as coronal mass ejections (CME).
This new capability will dramatically enhance scientists’ ability to predict if and how these solar tsunamis could affect the Earth.

When directed toward our planet, these ejections can be breathtakingly beautiful and yet potentially devastating.

The brightly coloured phenomena known as auroras - more commonly called Northern or Southern Lights - are examples of Earth’s upper atmosphere being harmlessly disturbed by a CME.

These ejections carry billions of tonnes of plasma into space at thousands of kilometres per hour. This plasma, which carries with it some of the magnetic field from the corona, can create a large, moving disturbance in space that produces a shock wave.

They can produce a form of solar cosmic rays that can be hazardous to spacecraft, astronauts and technology on Earth.

Space weather produces disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth that can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines and causing wide-spread blackouts.

These sun storms can interfere with communications between ground controllers and satellites and with airplane pilots flying near our poles.

Radio noise from the storm can also disrupt cell phone service. Space weather has been recognised as causing problems with new technology since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century.

NASA’s twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft are providing the unique scientific tool to study these ejections as never before.

Launched in October 2006, STEREO’s nearly identical observatories can make simultaneous observations of these ejections of plasma and magnetic energy that originate from the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, said a NASA release.

“Before this unique mission, measurements and the subsequent data of a CME observed near the sun had to wait until the ejections arrived at Earth three to seven days later,” said Angelos Vourlidas, solar physicist at the Naval Research Lab, Washington.

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