Using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), scientists have discovered new clues that could help predict when and where the next solar flare on the Sun might occur.
The researchers were able to identify small sparkles in the upper layers of the corona—the Sun’s atmosphere—were found above regions that would later ignite in energetic bursts of light and particles released by the Sun.
“We can get very different information in the corona than in the photosphere, or ‘surface’ of the Sun,” KD Leka, lead author of the new study from Nagoya University in Japan, said in a press release.
“Our results may give us a new marker to distinguish which active regions are likely to erupt soon and which will be quiet in the next period of time”.
Since its launch in 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory has helped scientists better understand what causes solar flares. One of the mission’s main goals was to make predictions about predict activity on the Sun.
Scientists have previously studied how changes in the Sun’s magnetic field can trigger flares, helping them predict when some flares will occur.
In addition, other groups of scientists have modeled how activity in the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere—such as the photosphere and chromosphere—can signal impending flare activity in active regions, which are typically characterized by sunspot clusters. The new findings, published in The Astrophysical Journalcontribute to it.
“With this study, we’re really starting to dig deeper.”said Karin Dissauer of NorthWest Research Associates (NWRA), who was instrumental in creating a database of images of the Sun’s active regions captured by SDO over the past eight years.
“In the future, combining all this information from the surface to the corona will allow meteorologists to make better predictions about when and where solar flares will occur.”
The new database makes it easier for scientists to use data from large statistical studies from SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA).
“This is the first time a database like this has been readily available to the scientific community, and it will be very useful for studying many topics, not just active regions,” Disauer said.
The NWRA team studied a large sample of hotspots from the database and their analysis revealed this there are often small and sharp changes in brightness in the corona before solar flares.
This and other news information will give researchers a better understanding of the physics going on in these magnetically active regions, with the goal of developing new tools for predicting solar flares.
The team said their methods could eventually help improve predictions of flares and space storms.
Space weather can affect Earth in many ways: producing auroras, endangering astronauts, disrupting radio communications and even causing major power outages.