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Surprising Science

The Sun’s Mysterious Chain Reactions

After building a simulation, N.A.S.A. scientists think they understand how solar eruptions can trigger other explosions thousands of kilometres away on the other side of the Sun.

What’s the Latest Development?

Thanks to last summer’s unprecedented series of solar explosions, cosmologists have begun to better understand how eruptions in one location of the Sun’s surface can trigger others thousands of kilometers away: The Sun’s magnetic field contains solar explosions like a lid on a pot of hot water. “If one of the regions manages to push aside its ‘lid’, the ensuing explosion can dislodge the lid on another magnetically volatile region—triggering a sequence of events in which the nearest region ready to blow may not be the next to erupt.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Knowing how solar eruptions function is important to understanding the risk they present to the Earth. What scientists learned in August 2010 is that an eruption directed away from the Earth can trigger an eruption directed toward the Earth. “Even if one parcel of highly magnetized gas from the Sun’s corona isn’t headed towards Earth, the explosion could trigger another, more threatening coronal mass ejection elsewhere. Aimed at Earth, such an event could damage electrical power grids or harm Earth-orbiting craft.”


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