Science

Watch the ‘solar serpent’ slither across the surface of the sun ahead of a massive eruption

The European Solar Orbiter spacecraft observed how a strange serpentine filament crawls across the surface of the Sun just before a massive plasma eruption.

The filament originated in a sunspot, a cooler region on the Sun’s surface where the star’s magnetic field is curved. According to the statement, it took the “serpent” three hours to slither across the solar disk at a speed of 105 miles (170 kilometers) per second, or 378,000 miles per hour (608,000 km/h). (will open in a new tab) from the European Space Agency (ESA), which operates the spacecraft. In a frame-by-frame sequence created from images taken with the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager Solar Orbiter, the “snake” slithers across the disk for a second.

Since the strange occurrence was followed by a coronal mass ejection (CME), an eruption of hot plasma from the sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, scientists believe the two phenomena may be related.

Related: ESA Solar Orbiter Just Received a Coronal Mass Ejection

Video taken by Solar Orbiter during its last close pass to the Sun in October. (Image credit: ESA and NASA/Solar Orbiter/EUI Team)

The snake’s plasma was colder than its surroundings as it forced its way through the winding magnetic field lines emanating from the star’s surface, the ESA said in a statement.

“You get plasma flowing from one side to the other, but the magnetic field is really curved,” said David Long, a scientist at the Mullard Space Research Laboratory at University College London, UK, who led the research into the phenomenon. statement. “So you’re getting this change of direction because we’re looking down at a twisted structure.”

Particles from the subsequent eruption, which occurred on September 5, were later detected by the Solar Orbiter Energetic Particle Detector (EPD). The eruption was “one of the most intense solar particle events” detected by the instrument, as it began scanning the area after the spacecraft launched in 2020, the ESA said in a statement.

“It’s a really good combination of datasets that we only get from Solar Orbiter,” Long said.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which periodically approaches the Sun to within a few million miles or kilometers, was in the straight line of this CME, making even more valuable measurements.

By correlating images of what’s happening on the surface of the Sun with measurements of particles and gases ejected by the Sun as they orbit a spacecraft, scientists hope to make new connections and gain insight into the dynamics of space weather events that could affect technology on Earth. Earth.

CMEs, which contain vast amounts of magnetized plasma, can interfere with the Earth’s own magnetic field, causing geomagnetic storms that are usually accompanied by spectacular aurora displays.

But eruptions can also create hazardous conditions in Earth’s orbit. Satellites experience more drag as a result of space weather events, and in some cases may even fall out of orbit. In February of this year, SpaceX lost a batch of about 50 new Starlink satellites after launching them into a moderate geomagnetic storm. More powerful geomagnetic storms can cause widespread power outages on Earth.

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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