Solar storm tracked all the way from the Sun to Earth

The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 20 2011 7:00 AM

Solar storm tracked all the way from the Sun to Earth

Yesterday I wrote about scientists being able to see sunspots as they form deep inside the Sun, well before they rise to the surface.

Around the same time, more news about the Sun was released as well. And I was ready to write up a fancy schmancy post talking all about it, I really was. It would be about how my old friend Craig DeForest used data from NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (aka STEREO) to track a coronal mass ejection (CME) -- a huge blast of subatomic particles chock full o' magnetic energy -- all the way from the solar surface to the Earth... but then those folks at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center put together this terrific video explaining it really well, saving me the effort!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


Very very cool. Here is a still from the actual animation of the blast:

[Click to embiggen.]

In this graphic, the Sun is on the right and the Earth on the left. The horizontal scale is logarithmic, which means it's highly compressed; as you get farther away from the Sun (that is, looking more to the left) the step size gets bigger. That allows a lot of space to be shown in a relatively small graphic. The green arrow shows the location of the CME, still well before it hit the Earth (if you click to get the complete image, you'll see several frames as the CME headed our way; the planet to the right of Earth is a representation of Venus).

It's hard to overstate just how faint this thing is; it took a huge amount of detailed processing to tease out the weak signal from the much brighter background of stars, the Milky Way, and other sources. Now let me phrase this next bit carefully. I know a lot of scientists, and many of them are the best of the best. Geniuses. I've known Craig for a while now (we used to work down the hall from each other at Goddard), and so when I tell you he is among the smartest people I have ever met, then hopefully you will understand the full import of this.

So this work is fantastic. Not only is it really beautiful and simply cool, it is also very important. A big CME carries a heckuva whallop with it, and can damage or destroy satellites and cause blackouts here on Earth. Nailing down their arrival times is extremely important, and has always been difficult. Craig's process using STEREO data can potentially reduce that uncertainty, and in the process save a lot of cash and grief. In this game, minutes count.

As the Sun ramps up its activity toward the peak in 2013 and 2014, this technique, and STEREO itself, will come in handy, I'd wager. But then, that's why we do this stuff!

Related posts:



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Learns That Breaking Up a Country Is Hard to Do

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Can Democrats Keep Counting on Republicans to Offend Women as a Campaign Strategy?


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 19 2014 11:36 AM Breaking Up Countries Is Still Hard to Do
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
The Vault
Sept. 19 2014 12:08 PM The CIA Used to Have a Commute-By-Canoe Club. One Member's Memories
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 12:10 PM Watch the Trailer for Big Eyes, a Tim Burton Movie About People With Normal-Sized Eyes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 11:40 AM Apple Invented the Perfect Way to Handle Your Giant New Phone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.