A New Method Is Capable of Detecting ‘Stealth’ Solar Storms Prior to Their Impact on Earth
Space is fraught with dangers. The Earth and its atmosphere protect us from the majority of them.
However, sometimes those threats are more powerful than those safeguards can tolerate, resulting in potentially catastrophic outcomes.
Solar flares are among the most well-known potential catastrophic catastrophes. While regular solar activity can be deflected by the planet’s magnetic field, resulting in occasionally stunning auroras, greater solar flares pose a threat.
Therefore, it is worth noting that a team of experts from the International Space Science Institute has developed a method for tracking these potentially harmful natural events.
Extremely massive coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are uncommon, and when they do occur, they are typically not directed at Earth.
This was the situation in 2012, when a large solar flare narrowly missed Earth but had the potential to knock out electrical grids and damage satellites throughout the planet’s entire hemisphere.
Due to the size and positioning of flares as massive as the one in 2012, they are relatively straightforward to identify using traditional sensing methods.
These sensors can keep an eye out for indicators of brightening on the Sun’s surface that indicate the presence of a solar flare, or they can track the flare as it exits the sun and disappears into the blackness of space.
Regrettably, the same sensing systems are incapable of detecting the most dangerous type of CMEs – those that are directed directly at us yet do not produce any brightening.
These CMEs, which leave no visible trace on the Sun’s surface, are referred to as “stealth” CMEs.
Typically, we observe these when they collide with the Earth and have no way of knowing where they formed on the Sun.
The researchers, however, used data obtained on four stealth CMEs by NASA’s STEREO mission, which successfully tracked them back to their solar sources.
Above: The 3 March 2011 CME is captured using four different imaging techniques and timeframes. The top row demonstrates the use of intensity pictures; the second row demonstrates the use of image differencing with a fixed temporal separation; the third row demonstrates the use of Wavelet Packet Equalization (WPE); and the fourth row demonstrates the use of Multi-scale Gaussian Normalization (MGN). Arrows show dimming and brightening regions, whereas an arrow circles active region AR 11165 in the first column.
When they compared those origin sites to other data acquired concurrently, they detected a changing pattern of brightening for all four stealth CMEs.
They believe these changes are suggestive of the construction of the stealth CME, giving scientists valuable time to detect and prepare for the possibility of a major CME strike once comparable patterns are found.
However, detecting the patterns themselves can be challenging.
STEREO’s discovery of the source region of the CMEs employed in the study was entirely coincidental – the spacecraft happened to be in the correct place at the right time.
To fully develop this method, further data from an angle away from Earth will be required to simulate the newly discovered CME and its genesis region.
However, assistance is on the way – the European Space Agency launched the Solar Orbiter last year, which is expected to acquire the necessary data as part of its mission.
Additionally, it can assist with a more difficult problem — detecting “super-stealth CMEs” which do not appear on a coronagraph, a standard technique for detecting other forms of solar flares.
The key to overcoming, or at the very least managing with, this potentially lethal environmental hazard is education. Now we have a mechanism for forecasting additional threats, as well as a road forward for detecting even more of them.
Universe Today originally published this article. Continue reading the original story.