The Sun's twisted mysteries
PARTICLE PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY RESEARCH COUNCIL RELEASE
Posted: September 1, 2002
CMEs are violent solar eruptions which travel at 1000 times the speed of Concorde and contain more mass then Mt. Everest. They have proved hazardous to modern technology, seen most dramatically in 1989 when a CME magnified the solar wind, which then slammed into the Earth. This caused widespread blackouts, which cost the Canadian national grid several million of pounds in damage to their systems.
On the more aesthetic side, CMEs are also responsible for the northern (and southern) lights, Aurora Borealis.
Dr. Lucie Green of MSSL says, 'Ultimately we need to know why CMEs occur so that one day we will be able to predict them just like we do with the weather on Earth. This is the new science of Space Weather.'
CMEs are seen when the Sun is artificially eclipsed and they contain beautifully twisted structures. Tracing them back to their solar origin reveals very twisted structures on the surface of the Sun too. This twist is contained in the Sun's magnetic field and, just like a stretched elastic band, it contains energy, which then blasts the CME into space.
Dr. Green says, 'We have only known about CMEs for the last 30 years. The UK plays a leading role in solar physics and these new results are helping us make substantial advancements in our understanding of these beautiful, but potentially hazardous, phenomena.'
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.
PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Schemes fund both small local projects and wider initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science.
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