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A Look Into the Heart of a Solar Storm

Aug 28, 2014 03:36 PM EDT

Back in Jan. 2005, a massive storm of solar space-weather engulfed the Earth, providing a relatively rare opportunity for scientists to study these storms in the hopes of one day being able to accurately predict their arrival and potential effects on human technology.

A study recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics details how researchers closely studied this 2005 storm, which turned out to be one of the largest outpourings of solar protons from our Sun ever monitored. Despite this, the storm's effects were rather underwhelming, lacking the severe magnetic interference of larger storms.

"There were features appearing that we generally only see during extreme space weather events, when by other measures the storm was moderate," study author Janet Kozyra said in a recent release. "We wanted to look at it holistically, much like terrestrial weather researchers do with extreme weather. We took every single piece of data that we could find on the solar storm and put it together to see what was going on."

Without the traditional magnetic interference, Kozyra and her colleagues were able to collect clear data from 20 different satellites and a multitude of ground-based monitoring stations to construct a model of the storm. The resulting model showed that the coronial mass ejection (CME) that kicked off the storm contained a rare amount of dense solar filament material. (Scroll to read on...)

CMEs are eruptions of solar material from the surface of the Sun, which can eject plasma and radiation great distances. In this CME's case, it happened to eject very dense material - a line of cooler, electrically charged plasma - fast and far, literally spewing a great deal of solar particles.

Interestingly, astrophysicists have long suspected that dense solar coils, or filaments of plasma, are involved in most CMEs. However, they are rarely ever identified in the events themselves.

"This event, with its unusual combination of space weather effects really demonstrates why it's important to look at the entire system, not just individual elements," Kozyra added. "Only by using all of this data, by watching the event from the beginning to the end, can we begin to understand all the different facets of an extreme storm like this."

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