From: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
Published August 15, 2017 01:36 PM

NASA, ESA Spacecraft Track Solar Storm Through Space

Our Sun is active: Not only does it release a constant stream of material, called the solar wind, but it also lets out occasional bursts of faster-moving material, known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. NASA researchers wish to improve our understanding of CMEs and how they move through space because they can interact with the magnetic field around Earth, affecting satellites, interfering with GPS signals, triggering auroras, and — in extreme cases — straining power grids.

While we track CMEs with a number of instruments, the sheer size of the solar system means that our observations are limited, and usually taken from a distance. However, scientists have recently used data from 10 NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) spacecraft in the direct path of a CME to piece together an unprecedented portrait of how these solar storms move through space — in particular, narrowing down the changes in speed that happen as CMEs travel through the solar system beyond Earth’s orbit. The results were published on Aug. 14, 2017 in the Journal of Geophysical Research. This new set of observations adds key information to the models needed to track how material moves and changes throughout space in the solar system — crucial to understanding the medium through which our spacecraft travel, as we venture farther and farther from home.

On Oct. 14, 2014, a CME left the Sun, as measured by spacecraft that watch for CMEs from afar using an instrument called a coronagraph. From there, the CME washed over spacecraft throughout the inner solar system — including passing by Curiosity on Mars, near comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and out to Saturn. This wealth of data from directly in the path of the CME is a boon for scientists working on space science simulations. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, scientists work to validate, host and improve such simulations, and this new information provides the most comprehensive look to date at how the speed of a CME evolves over time.

Continue reading at NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

Image: Coronal mass ejection erupting from the Sun

Credit: ESA / NASA / SOHO

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