About Space Weather

Sunspots show us where the Sun's magnetic fields are most intense. Magnetic fields above sunspots act like invisible nets, blocking the escape of electrically charged gas, or plasma, that constantly boils away from the solar surface. When the pressure is too great, they burst. Solar storms then erupt with the power of millions of Hydrogen bombs!

If the explosion occurs low in the solar atmosphere, the blast is short but intense. It pours out ultraviolet light, x-rays and energetic particle radiation - a solar flare. If the magnetic "nets" stretch far into the corona before they break, we have a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a billion tons of solar plasma speeding at over a million miles per hour! 

Two to four days later, if the storm is aimed at Earth, the results can be dramatic. Induced currents can corrode pipelines, destroy power grids, and cause blackouts. Navigation and communication satellites can be damaged. Astronauts may be exposed to high radiation doses. The most beautiful effects of Earth-directed solar storms are aurora – shimmering curtains and swirls of light in the night sky. Some solar particles find their way into Earth’s protective magnetosphere. Most gather on the far side in the “magnetotail.” Then, sped by a magnetic slingshot (bright flash on the card), the re-energized particles zoom in along Earth’s magnetic fields and strike the upper atmosphere in ovals around the poles where atoms glow like neon lights.

Scientists around the world use data from spacecraft and ground-based instruments to monitor space weather and issue forecasts. New NASA missions are being developed. For video clips and more information, visit: soho.nascom.nasa.gov/spaceweather/lenticular

Last modification: October 15, 2004
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