The Sun has routinely been spewing out solar flares and coronal mass ejections lately, and space weather projections for 2023 indicate that this year will be more eventful for the star of our solar system.
Considering how solar flares can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms on Earth, these events can sometimes be a pain in the neck. But ever the problem solver, NASA has found a way for space weather experts to predict these flares accurately!
Solar flares are basically explosions on the Sun that happen when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields, usually above sunspots, gets released all of a sudden. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x- and gamma-rays.
Until now, scientists have studied groups of sunspots with vital magnetic regions darker and cooler than the areas around them. And this would give them an idea of how activity in the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere can potentially indicate impending flare activity in the active regions.
However, they might’ve devised an efficient way of tracking down solar flares that can ensure timely action to protect astronauts at the International Space Station, satellites and even power grids down here on Earth.
Upon studying the clues hidden in the blazing upper solar atmosphere, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory found that the Sun’s corona produces small-scale flashes, like “small sparklers before the big fireworks”. And these flashes can be used to identify solar flares before they happen.
The researchers created an image database (now publicly available) featuring over eight years’ worth of images of active regions of the Sun in ultraviolet and extreme-ultraviolet light. Statistical analysis of this large sample of active regions from the database led them to discover that small flashes precede solar flares in the corona.
“We can get some very different information in the corona than we get from the photosphere, or ‘surface’ of the Sun. Our results may give us a new marker to distinguish which active regions are likely to flare soon and which will stay quiet over an upcoming period of time,” KD Leka, lead author of the new study, said in a press statement.
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