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Source of solar particles that threaten spaceflight and satellites is identified in the sun

Scientists have identified the source in the sun which produces solar energetic particles that threaten crewed spaceflight, near-Earth satellites and airplanes.

A team of US researchers analyzed the composition of particles that flew towards Earth in 2014 and found the same ‘fingerprint’ of plasma that is located low in the sun’s chromosphere – its second most outer layer.

The solar energetic particles are released from the sun at high speed during storms in its atmosphere and for the first time scientists have identified their source.

The team says this new information can be used to better predict when a major solar storm will hit and act faster to mitigate risks.

Scientists have identified the source in the sun which produces solar energetic particles that threaten crewed spaceflight, near-Earth satellites and airplanes

The discovery was made by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and George Mason University in Virginia.

Co-author Dr. Stephanie Yardley (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, MSSL) said: ‘In our study we have observed for the first time exactly where solar energetic particles come from on the Sun.

‘Our evidence supports theories that these highly charged particles originate from plasma that has been held down low in the Sun’s atmosphere by strong magnetic fields.’ 

A team of US researchers analyzed the composition of particles that flew towards Earth in 2014 and found the same 'fingerprint' of plasma that is located low in the sun's chromosphere

A team of US researchers analyzed the composition of particles that flew towards Earth in 2014 and found the same ‘fingerprint’ of plasma that is located low in the sun’s chromosphere

Researchers used measurements from NASA's Wind satellite, located between the sun and Earth, to analyze a series of solar energetic particle streams, each lasting at least a day, in January 2014

Researchers used measurements from NASA’s Wind satellite, located between the sun and Earth, to analyze a series of solar energetic particle streams, each lasting at least a day, in January 2014

‘These energetic particles, once released, are then accelerated by eruptions that travel at a speed of a few thousand kilometers a second.’

Scientists have long been investigating space weather to better forecast and prepare for the potentially hazardous events.

‘We need to understand and characterize the processes that form and heat the solar atmosphere and accelerate the solar wind into the heliosphere,’ reads the study published in the Science Advances journal.

‘From a space weather perspective, we must elucidate the mechanisms that drive solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and solar energetic particles (SEPs).’

In the study, researchers used measurements from NASA’s Wind satellite, located between the sun and Earth, to analyze a series of solar energetic particle streams, each lasting at least a day, in January 2014.

These results (blue images)  were then compared this to spectroscopy data from the JAXA-led Hinode spacecraft, which explores the magnetic fields of the sun to uncover what powers the solar atmosphere and sparks solar eruptions

These results (blue images)  were then compared this to spectroscopy data from the JAXA-led Hinode spacecraft, which explores the magnetic fields of the sun to uncover what powers the solar atmosphere and sparks solar eruptions

These results were then compared this to spectroscopy data from the JAXA-led Hinode spacecraft, which explores the magnetic fields of the sun to uncover what powers the solar atmosphere and sparks solar eruptions.

The 2014 high-energy particles came for a highly active region of the sun that frequently gives off solar flares and CMEs, and an extremely strong magnetic field.

The area, dubbed 11944, was one of the largest active regions on the Sun at the time and was visible to observers on Earth as a sunspot—a dark spot on the surface of the sun.

And this made it a prime spot for the team to investigate.

They found that the solar energetic particles measured by the Wind satellite had the same chemical signature—an abundance of silicon compared to sulfur—as plasma confined close to the top of the Sun’s chromosphere.

These locations were at the ‘footpoints’ of hot coronal loops—that is, at the bottom of loops of magnetic field and plasma extending out into the Sun’s outer atmosphere and back again.

Using a new technique, the team measured the coronal magnetic field strength at these footpoints, and found it was very high, in the region of 245 to 550 Gauss, confirming the theory that the plasma is held down in the Sun’s atmosphere by strong magnetic fields ahead of its release into space.

Lead author Dr. David Brooks (George Mason University and Honorary Associate Professor at UCL MSSL) said: ‘Our observations provide a tantalizing glimpse into where the material that produces solar energetic particles comes from in a few events from the last solar cycle.’

‘We are now starting a new solar cycle, and once it gets going we will use the same techniques to see if our results are generally true, or if these events are somehow unusual.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk