Astronomers see flashes on the Solar that could possibly be an indication of an imminent eruption
Using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, scientists have uncovered new clues that could help predict when and where the next solar flare could emanate from the sun.
Researchers were able to identify small flashes in the upper layers of the corona – the Sun’s atmosphere – that sat over regions that would later flare up in energetic bursts of light and particles released from the Sun. The scientists compared the flashes to small sparklers before the big fireworks.
“We can get very different information from the corona than from the photosphere or ‘surface’ of the Sun,” said KD Leka, lead author of the new study from the University of Nagoya in Japan, in a NASA press release. “Our results could give us a new clue to distinguish which active regions are likely to flare up soon and which are likely to remain dormant for an upcoming period.”
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Since its inception in 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory has helped scientists better understand what causes solar flares. One of the main goals of the mission was to be able to make forecasts to predict activity on the Sun.
Scientists have previously studied how changes in the Sun’s magnetic field can cause flares, helping them predict when some flares would occur. In addition, other teams have modeled how activity in lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere — such as the photosphere and chromosphere — can indicate upcoming flare activity in active regions, often marked by clusters of sunspots. The new findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal, complement this picture.
Two images of a Sun-active region (NOAA AR 2109) captured by SDO/AIA show extreme ultraviolet light produced by million-degree hot coronal gas (top images) the day before the region flared (left) and the day before it remained calm and flared not (right). The changes in brightness (bottom images) at these two time points show different patterns, with patches of intense variation (black and white areas) before flare (bottom left) and mostly gray (indicating little variability) before quiescence (bottom right). .
Image credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/Dissauer et al. 2022
“With this research, we’re really starting to dig deeper,” said Karin Dissauer of NorthWest Research Associates, or NWRA, who was instrumental in compiling an image database of the Sun’s active regions captured by SDO over the past eight years. “Combining all this information from the surface to the corona should allow forecasters to make better predictions about when and where solar flares will occur.”
The new database makes it easier for scientists to use data from large statistical studies conducted by SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA).
“It’s the first time a database like this has been readily available to the scientific community, and it will be very useful for investigating many topics, not just active regions ready for flares,” Dissauer said.
The NWRA team examined a large sample of active regions from the database, and their analysis revealed that there are frequent small, intense changes in brightness in the corona before solar flares. These and other new findings will give researchers a better understanding of the physics taking place in these magnetically active regions, with the goal of developing new tools to predict solar flares.
The team said their methods could eventually help improve flare and space weather storm predictions. Space weather can affect Earth in many ways: creating auroras, endangering astronauts, disrupting radio communications, and even causing major power outages.