The inner physics of coronal mass ejections (CME) have been laid bare for the first time. That was the key message delivered by NASA scientists at a specially convened press conference at its Washington headquarters on Thursday.
The Agency released a movie, shot by one of its spacecrafts, of a solar storm engulfing planet Earth. They say their analysis of the footage, captured in 2008, will profoundly shape theoretical models and computer-generated forecasts of CMEs for many years to come.
CMEs are billion-ton clouds of solar plasma launched by the same explosions that spark solar flares. When they sweep past our planet, they can cause auroras, radiation storms, and in extreme cases power outages. Tracking these clouds and predicting their arrival is an important part of space weather forecasting.
“We have seen CMEs before, but never quite like this,” says Lika Guhathakurta, program scientist for the STEREO mission at NASA headquarters. “STEREO-A has given us a new view of solar storms.”