Washington: George Mason University scientists have confirmed that a phenomenon called a giant magnetic rope that has been recently discovered is the cause of solar storms.
The finding is a key first step in helping to mitigate the adverse effects that solar storm eruptions can have on satellite communications on Earth.
The discovery was made by associate professor Jie Zhang and his graduate student Xin Cheng using images from the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft.
Though the magnetic rope was believed to be the cause of these giant eruptions on the Sun, scientists had previously not been able to prove this phenomenon existed because of how quickly the rope moves.
However, through close examination of images taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) telescope on board the SDO, Zhang was able to pinpoint an area of the Sun where a magnetic rope was forming.
“The magnetic rope triggers a solar eruption. Scientists have been debating whether or not this magnetic rope exists before a solar eruption. I believe that the result of this excellent observation helps finally solve this controversial issue,” said Zhang.
A solar storm is a violent eruption from the Sun, sending billions of tons of charged material, also called plasma, into space at a speed of more than one million miles per hour.
The cloud of plasma carries with it a strong magnetic field. When the magnetized cloud reaches Earth one to three days later, a huge amount of energy is deposited into the magnetosphere of the Earth.
Normally, the Earth’s magnetosphere shields this harmful solar wind and protects the environment.
However, a solar storm has the potential to disrupt the shielding effect and produce severe space weather, which can have harmful effects on a wide array of technological systems, including satellite operation, communication and navigation and electric power grids.
The study was reported at the American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division Meeting, held in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on June 12-16, 2011.