New Clues in the Sun’s Atmosphere Could Help Predict Solar Flares and Space Weather Storms

Scientists have taken a step closer to predicting when and where the next eruption of the Sun will happen. They have found new clues in the blazing upper atmosphere of the Sun that could help solve the riddle of predicting solar flares and space weather storms.

On January 14, the Sun exploded with a partial halo Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) that hit Earth on January 17, causing an abrupt shift in the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF) near Earth. While it only sparked auroras, stronger eruptions on the Sun have the tendency to damage electronic grids and satellites, and even cause power outages.

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A team from NorthWest Research Associates have identified small signals in the upper layers of the solar atmosphere, the corona, that can help identify which regions of the Sun are more likely to produce energetic bursts of light and particles known as solar flares. The corona produced small-scale flashes above the regions about to flare, similar to small sparklers before the big explosion.

The study, published in The Astrophysical Journal, is based on the analysis of time-series images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory/Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) of a large sample of active-region. They combined over eight years of images taken of active regions in ultraviolet and extreme-ultraviolet light.

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The analysis revealed small flashes in the corona preceding each flare. These and other new insights will give researchers a better understanding of the physics taking place in these magnetically active regions, with the goal of developing new tools to predict solar flares.

Researchers believe that the information could eventually help improve predictions of flares and space weather storms – the disrupted conditions in space caused by the Sun’s activity. NASA said that space weather can affect Earth in many ways, from producing auroras, endangering astronauts, disrupting radio communications, to even causing large electrical blackouts.

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