Royal Astronomical Society Press Release
RAS PN 10/20 (NAM 05) 12-Apr-2010
Over the last century, astronomers have become very aware of how just dynamic the Sun really is. One of the most dramatic manifestations of this is a coronal mass ejection (CME) where billions of tons of matter is thrown into space. If a CME reaches the Earth it creates inclement ‘space weather’ that can disrupt communications, power grids and the delicate systems on orbiting satellites. This potential damage means there is a keen interest in understanding exactly what triggers a CME outburst.
The Sun’s behaviour is shaped by the presence of magnetic fields that thread through the solar atmosphere. The magnetic fields may take on different shapes from uniform arches to coherent bundles of field lines known as ‘flux ropes’. Understanding the exact structure of magnetic fields is a crucial part of the effort to determine how the fields evolve and the role they play in solar eruptions. In particular, flux ropes are thought to play a vital role in the CME process, having been frequently detected in interplanetary space as CMEs reach the vicinity of the Earth.
The three images reveal gases trapped in the flux rope at different temperatures, from 1.5 million degrees Celsius in the
image on the left through to 2.5 million degrees Celsius in the right hand image. These were made with data taken by the EIS
telescope, an instrument built by a team led by UCL-MSSL and deployed on the Hinode spacecraft. (JAXA/ISAS/NASA/STFC)