Shock to the (Solar) System: Coronal Mass Ejection Tracked to Saturn

In a dramatic proof that solar coronal mass ejection (CME) events affect even the outermost portions of the Solar System, scientists have traced an interplanetary shock from the Sun to Earth to Jupiter to Saturn.

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However, with the unaccustomed surge of electromagnetic noise that was echoing throughout the inner solar system, and with the ensuing panic as normmaly talkative human beings discovered that their multiplex communications system was effectively blanked out, no one happened to be looking at the sky.

Solar flares occur when magnetic energy built up in the solar photosphere is suddenly released. Radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum is released; the energy released can equal that of a million 100 megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time. The first flare recorded occurred in 1859. A solar flare in 1989 blacked out all of Quebec, Canada. Solar flares in 1998 knocked out the Galaxy 4 satellite, causing eighty percent of the pagers in North America to fall silent.

The sun's corona is highest region of the solar atmosphere; it can be seen during a total eclipse as a large halo of white, glowing gas extending several solar radii from the solar disk. A special telescope called a coronagraph that artificially eclipses the sun's disk is used to study the solar corona on a regular basis. A coronal mass ejection (CME) can occur without a flare, although they are often associated. A CME can carry up to 10 billion tons of electrified gas traveling at speeds of up to 2,000 kilometers per second. Fortunately, our planet's magnetic field serves as shield against these storms.

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The results were published in a letter to the journal nature by Renee Prange, Laurent Pallier and Regis Courtin (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris); Kenneth C. Hansen (Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, University of Michigan); Russ Howard and Angelos Vourlidas (Naval Research Laboratory); and Chris Parkinson (California Institute of Technology, JPL and the NASA Astrobiology Institute). Read An interplanetary shock traced by planetary auroral storms from the Sun to Saturn.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from - where science meets fiction.)

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