Satellite sheds light on solar storms
December 9, 1997
Soho orbits between the Earth and the sun
Web posted at: 9:53 a.m. EST (1453 GMT)
(CNN) -- Soho, a satellite parked in orbit between the Earth
and the sun, has produced compelling pictures of solar
eruptions and has helped scientists predict nine out of 10
geomagnetic storms in the past year.
The images provided by Soho offer a new understanding of how
these violent explosions in the sun's atmosphere disrupt life
on the planet, causing everything from noisy phone calls to
power outages. Soho is an acronym for Solar Heliospheric
Coronal mass ejections, as the eruptions are called, generate
magnetic storms on Earth sometimes strong enough to shut down
electrical power systems and interfere with communications.
"When you look close to the surface, you see coronal mass
ejections invariably occur in regions of neighboring magnetic
fields," said Spiro Antiochos of the U.S. Naval Research
Like tethers on a hot air balloon, smaller magnetic fields
hold back a larger field until the tethers break and a huge
chunk of the sun erupts into space, taking with it a huge
coiled magnetic field that might look like a child's Slinky
If the Earth's magnetic field is properly aligned with the
sun, the sun and the Earth make magnetic contact.
And when they connect, what happens?
"It allows solar wind energy to get into the near-Earth
environment and make storms," said Nancy Crooker of the
Center for Space Physics at Boston University. "We're wired
to the sun."
The contact may last 10 to 12 hours.
"It interacts with the Earth's magnetic field and connects.
It gets carried around the system, into the tail, dumped in
there and you see it pulsating because all that power's being
dumped in there," said Chuck Goodrich of the University of
Maryland's astronomy department.
Crooker said Soho's ability to predict the storms is the "big
"We can see them coming toward us," Crooker said.
Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report.
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