A negative image of the Sun showing the active region was taken from Yohkoh data and is provided courtesy of the Solar UK Research Facility.
Solar physicists have observed the smallest ever coronal mass ejection (CME) - a type of explosion where plasma from the Sun is thrown out into space, sometimes striking the Earth and damaging orbiting satellites. The observation has come as a great surprise to scientists and has turned previous ideas up-side-down.
To date studies of these phenomena have focussed on large explosions which are easier to detect and which have massive footprints on the Sun, sometimes covering thousands of millions of square miles. But in a paper published in the May edition of Astronomy and Astrophysics, an international team from the UK, Argentina, Finland, France and Hungary showed that CMEs can also be produced from regions as small as the Earth, around 10,000 miles across. This still may sound large but it is tiny by cosmic standards.
CMEs are believed to be caused by the destabilisation of twisted loops in the Sun’s magnetic field, which contain lots of energy, settling into more stable positions (like a twisted rubber band unwinding suddenly). Until now, the events have been traced back to large areas of magnetic activity on the Sun, but the new observations relate to an area much smaller than anything seen before. However, even though the event was small it was still energetic enough to reach the Earth and amazingly the magnetic field lines were ten times more twisted than is usually seen in the larger areas.
Julia Maddock | EurekAlert!
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