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Scientists Detect the Cause of the Sun’s “Perfect Storm”

By David Reneke

Astronomers have deduced the cause of a massive solar storm, and set standards to prevent profiteering from the naming of space objects.

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An international team of scientists has uncovered the origin and cause of an extreme space weather event that occurred on the Sun in 2012 and generated the fastest solar wind speed ever recorded directly by a solar wind instrument.

The formation of the rare, powerful storm showed striking, novel features that were detected by an instrument on NASA’s twin satellite Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission.

The storm on 22 July 2012 was so powerful that had it been aimed at Earth instead of at the STEREO spacecraft, which was located 120° off to the side of Earth, the consequences would have been dramatic – widespread aurora, satellite mal­functions, and the potential failure of electricity grids.

To date it has been unclear how extreme space weather storms form and evolve. Developing a better understanding of their causes is vital to protecting modern society and its technological infrastructures – one of the goals of the STEREO mission.

“These results provide a new view crucial to solar physics and space weather as to how an extreme space weather event can arise from a combination of multiple solar eruptions,” says research assistant professor Noé Lugaz of the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

The researchers suggest that a successive one-two punch of solar eruptions, known as coronal mass ejections, was the key to the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.