This is a photograph of the first coronal mass ejection seen by Solar Orbiter, but this photograph comes from the NASA spacecraft Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory. The Solar Orbiter image, which is somewhat grainy, can be seen at this Internet link:
(Image Source: NASA)
By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
Large solar flares, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), have been imaged on the opposite side of the Sun, from Earth, by a new NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft. The new spacecraft, called Solar Orbiter, recorded these flares even before the probe's scientific mission had been officially underway.
Solar Orbiter imaged the first CME using the on-board Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI), which is used to monitor the solar wind, dust, and cosmic rays that fill the space between the Sun and the planets.
The Solar Orbiter observed the first CME on February 12, almost exactly a year from its 2020 February 10 launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida. At the time of the observation, Solar Orbiter was about 48 million miles / 77.25 million kilometers from the Sun, half the average 93 million-mile / 149.67 million-kilometer distance between the Sun and the Earth.
Also, at the time this CME was seen, the Solar Orbiter had just passed behind the Sun, from Earth's perspective. Mission scientists were surprised by the sudden solar flare, as they had not planned any observing until November, when Solar Orbiter's 7-year mission would officially begin.
“But since we planned this out, the ground stations and the technology have been upgraded,” said Robin Colaninno, principal investigator for SoloHI at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “So we actually got more down-link time for the mission than what was originally scheduled.”
Another imager on Solar Orbiter, the ESA’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager and Metis, also caught pictures of the CME. Other solar spacecraft, including NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory,also saw this solar event.
Solar Orbiter has taken the closest photographs of the Sun ever taken, to-date. It plans to get even closer to the Sun. Eventually, it will be in an orbit that periodically takes the spacecraft within 26 million miles / 41.84 million kilometers of the Sun. To travel to the Sun, and to reach the special orbit it needs for observations, it used both Earth and Venus in gravity-assist maneuvers.
NASA has been watching CMEs for decades and for good reason. The electron particles sprayed into space from a CME can damage spacecraft and hurt human tissue beyond the Earth's magnetosphere. It can also cause damage to electronics and power grids on Earth.
One hundred years ago this month (1921 May 13 to 15), a very powerful CME caused disruption to telegraph service in the United States as well as in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, A news report in the Ottawa Journal stated that long-distance telephone lines in the Canadian province of New Brunswick had been burned-out by the powerful geomagnetic storm. A telegraph exchange in Sweden also burst into flames, due to the excess electrical currents induced by geomagnetic activity.
This event is also known as the “New York
Railroad Super-storm.” The CME was so powerful that it disrupted the signaling
system on the New York Central Railroad, bringing railroad operations
to a temporary halt. The Central New England Railroad Station, in the small town of Brewster, New York, burned-down from a fire started at the railroad station switch-board.
But, this was not first time that a CME affected telegraph service. The “Carrington Event” of 1859 September 1 and 2 resulted in the failure of telegraph systems all over North America and Europe. Telegraph operators were shocked and some fires were started from the extra electric charges in telegraph wires.
While the Carrington Event is often cited as the worst such event in history, scientists now conclude that the 1921 event was equally as strong.
But even a milder event can cause disruptions. A CME on 1989 March 13 caused a failure of the electric grid in the Canadian province of Quebec, resulting in a major power black-out for the entire province.
So, NASA is very interested in learning as much about this solar phenomena as possible, to try to predict future CMEs and find ways to possibly avoid the dangers a strong CME could cause on our ever expanding electronic and computerized society.
Internet Links to Additional Information ---
NASA News Release: "A New Space Instrument Captures Its First Solar Eruption." Link >>> https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/a-new-space-instrument-captures-its-first-solar-eruption
Coronal Mass Ejection (CME): Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronal_mass_ejection
Solar Orbiter: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Orbiter
Relations Observatory: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STEREO
Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1921: Link >>> https://spaceweatherarchive.com/2020/05/12/the-great-geomagnetic-storm-of-may-1921/
Carrington Event of 1859: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrington_Event
Major Geomagnetic Storm of 1989: Link >>> https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/sun_darkness.html
Related Blog-Posts --
"160th Anniv: Carrington Event Solar Mega-Storm." Tue., 2019 Sept. 3.
"Largest Sunspot in 24 Years Returns for 2nd Month." Sun., 2014 Nov. 23.
Friday, 2021 May 21.
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Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania.
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