The heart of space weather observed in action

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Posted on July 16, 2013
An overlap of data from two NASA spacecraft confirms a sighting of magnetic reconnection on the sun, a process of realigning magnetic fields that lies at the heart of space weather. The teal image, from SDO, shows the shape of magnetic field lines in the sun's atmosphere. The RHESSI data is in orange. Credit: NASA/SDO/RHESSI/Goddard

An overlap of data from two NASA spacecraft confirms a sighting of magnetic reconnection on the sun, a process of realigning magnetic fields that lies at the heart of space weather. The teal image, from SDO, shows the shape of magnetic field lines in the sun’s atmosphere. The RHESSI data is in orange. Credit: NASA/SDO/RHESSI/Goddard

Two NASA spacecraft have provided the most comprehensive movie ever of a mysterious process at the heart of all explosions on the sun: magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection happens when magnetic field lines come together, break apart and then exchange partners, snapping into new positions and releasing a jolt of magnetic energy. This process lies at the heart of giant explosions on the sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can fling radiation and particles across the solar system.

Scientists want to better understand this process so they can provide advance warning of such space weather, which can affect satellites near Earth and interfere with radio communications. One reason why it’s so hard to study is that magnetic reconnection can’t be witnessed directly, because magnetic fields are invisible. Instead, scientists use a combination of computer modeling and a scant sampling of observations around magnetic reconnection events to attempt to understand what’s going on.

“The community is still trying to understand how magnetic reconnection causes flares,” said Yang Su, a solar scientist at the University of Graz in Austria. “We have so many pieces of evidence, but the picture is not yet complete.”

Read more at: Phys.org