the Sun

An image of the sun’s million degree atmosphere taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

A recent study by scientists at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa shows that solar storms create huge shock waves that race through the solar atmosphere at millions of miles per hour. As they do, they can accelerate electrons to huge energies, which then produce radio waves.

Radio bursts from solar storms can adversely affect both satellite and terrestrial communications. In fact, mobile phone networks can experience more dropped calls during periods of increased solar activity. Despite decades of study, the link between solar storms and solar radio bursts had remained unclear until this study. The team published their findings in Nature Physics.

“The study of solar storms is often very challenging because of the limited ways to observe them from Earth. This is now being overcome with the use of such missions as NASA’s STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft that provide high-resolution images from different locations in space, allowing 3-D imaging of solar eruptions,” says Jason Byrne, a postdoctoral scientist at Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and a member of the study team.

The new study combining multiple spacecraft data with solar radio burst detections from antennas in Ireland gives an insight into the fundamental physics of these solar storms. This allows scientists to investigate how solar storms move through space and predict whether or not they will hit Earth and cause severe space weather conditions in our upper atmosphere.

“What we have found is fascinating–a real insight into how solar radio bursts are created,” said lead author Professor Peter Gallagher at Trinity College Dublin. “Using antennas in radio-quiet locations in Ireland combined with methods of 3D imaging from spacecraft orbiting the sun, we have identified a missing link between solar storms and radio bursts.”

The study not only gives insight into the fundamental physics of massive explosions on the sun, but also enables scientists to better understand how the sun affects Earth and potentially impacts technology and our daily lives.

—A UH Mānoa news release.

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