Massive Solar Storms | National Geographic

we have liftoff

space-based observatories provide us

with the unique view of solar activity

in 2006 NASA launched twins

state-of-the-art satellites to study at

close hand solar storms and sunspots

visible signs of deep magnetic activity

that affects the whole solar system

the scientists borrow a trick from 1950s

b-movies to create a 3d image of the Sun

they deployed two satellites orbiting in

tandem one in front of the other so they

can build a three-dimensional image back

on earth this 3d image will provide

crucial new data on massive explosions

of electrified plasma called solar

storms billions of tons of superheated

gas fly into space and Buffett the

Earth's atmosphere creating the most

dramatic northern and southern lights

Michael Kaiser of the Solar terrestrial

relations Observatory or stereo we want

to monitor these storms so that we can

better predict them these storms are

basically electrical storms and they can

affect spacecraft ground power systems

the GPS can be upset solar storms are

caused by lines of magnetic force

ripping through the sun's gaseous

surface and snapping spewing out hot

gases and a fierce stream of charged

particles the most powerful type of

what's called solar wind

some storms take two days to strike the

earth while very large ejections arrive

in only 12 hours stereo could give us

time to put satellites and electric

power grids into safe mode and move

astronauts into protected sections of

the space station the ones we're

interested in the ones coming right at

us are particularly difficult to

estimate the speed and velocity a simple

demo shows how two satellites allow

scientists to calculate the speed of

this solar wind Michael Kaiser ejects a

jet of liquid and a plate of glass from

the front it's difficult to measure the

speed this is the way older satellites

used to view solar storms but from the

side you can measure two points along

the projectile and calculate the speed

more easily studying solar storms not

just from the front but the side as well

doesn't just reveal their speed

it also shows where they come from the

answer turns out to be the area around

sunspots these dark spots on the Sun

surface were shrouded in mystery until

the 20th century when scientists

realized that they were connected with

the way the Sun generates heat at its

core once scientists understood that the

Sun got its energy from nuclear

reactions the answer became clear

nuclear fusion within the Sun creates

the conditions for powerful magnetic

effects the currents of superheated gas

generate intense magnetic fields as the

sun's interior churns vast loops of

magnetic force appear merge and

disappear creating sunspots luckily

there's a way to visualize it right here

on earth in the comfort of your own


NASA astronomers Sten Odin wal compares

magnetic field lines to spaghetti the

surface of the Sun is very hot gases

that are turning over in a boiling

motion what you're seeing in the pot of

water is the convecting water coming up

to the surface and releasing its heat

and then sinking back down into the pot

to get reheated the rolling strands of

spaghetti are like the magnetic field

lines churning beneath the sun's surface