Scientists Measure Sun’s Magnetic Field
By Observing Solar Tsunami - A Rarely Seen Phenomenon

12 July, 2013

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Follow us: - A solar tsunami observed by has been used to provide the first accurate estimates of the Sun's magnetic field.

A rare phenomenon called "solar tsunami" was observed by a team of scientists using NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Japanese Hinode spacecraft in their research.

Hinode has three highly sensitive telescopes, which use visible, X-ray and ultraviolet light to examine both slow and rapid changes in the magnetic field.

Violent events on the Sun can trigger waves much the same as earthquakes can trigger tsunamis on the Earth, as shown in this computer simulation.

It has been orbiting the star since 2006 and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) joined the satellite in 2010.

The satellites use ultraviolet light to observe and track the movement of the "waves" through their powerful telescopes.

Similar to tsunamis on Earth, solar tsunamis are produced by enormous explosions in the Sun's atmosphere called coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

As the CME travels out into space, the tsunami travels across the Sun at speeds of up to 1000 kilometers per second.

The shape of solar tsunamis is changed by the environment through which they move. Just as sound travels faster in water than in air, solar tsunamis have a higher speed in regions of stronger magnetic field.

This unique feature allowed the team, led by researchers from UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, to measure the Sun's magnetic field.

"We've demonstrated that the Sun's atmosphere has a magnetic field about ten times weaker than a normal fridge magnet," Dr David Long, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and lead author of the research, said.

The unique orbit of STEREO's twin spacecraft allowed scientists to confirm the existence of solar tsunamis. Credit: NASA

Using data obtained using the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS), a UK-led instrument on the Japanese Hinode spacecraft, the team measured the density of the solar atmosphere through which the tsunami was travelling.

"These are rare observations of a spectacular event that reveal some really interesting details about our nearest star," Dr Long noted said.

Scientists have to continuously observe and examine the Sun's violent activity and its atmosphere. The Sun's magnetic field is difficult to measure directly and usually scientists have only computer simulations to rely on.

The explosions that produce solar tsunamis can send CMEs hurtling towards the Earth. Although protected by its own magnetic field, the Earth is vulnerable to these solar storms as they can adversely affect satellites and technological infrastructure.

"As our dependency on technology increases, understanding how these eruptions occur and travel will greatly assist in protecting against solar activity," Dr Long said.


See also:
Mysterious Planet Discovered Lurking At The Edge Of Our Solar System: Has Nemesis Been Found?

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