Huge Magnetic 'Ropes' Drive Powerful Sun Explosions
By Charles Q. Choi, Space.com Contributor | October 22, 2014 ShortURL
View of a typical solar eruption using data from NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft. Earth depicted for scale.
Credit: Tahar Amari/Centre de physique théorique, CNRS-Ecole Polytechnique, France
Eruptions on the sun's surface are probably caused by giant, unstable magnetic plasma arches, a new study reports — a discovery that brings scientists one step closer to predicting solar outbursts that can wreak havoc on Earth.
Astronomers have long observed gigantic arches of plasma emerging from the surface of the sun. Known as magnetic flux ropes, coronal loops and solar prominences, these structures possess spiraling magnetic field lines, as if a huge bar magnet had been twisted into a corkscrew. A vast amount of electric current typically runs through the core of each of these tubes.
Scientists have long thought magnetic flux ropes drive powerful solar explosions such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which can spawn geomagnetic storms that damage satellites in space and disrupt power grids on Earth. [The Sun's Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History]