NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), equipped with the CU-Boulder designed and built instrument called the Extreme ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE), has gathered new data about basic characteristics and dynamics of solar flares.
The new data redirects some of the previously held beliefs about the strength, sustainability, and energy dynamics of solar physics.
EVE records data at every 10 second interval, much more often than previous instruments, and observes at all the wavelengths at once. These two features are the capabilities bringing in the new data.
It was previously believed that the normal flare process consisted of a number of seconds or minutes. It is shown now that in fact, in some instances, the radiation can continue after the main solar flare event for up to five hours. This extended radiation activity can also have more energy than the initial event.
Associated with sunspots, solar flares are a release of magnetic energy in the form of fantastic bursts of radiation. As this energy travels to Earth, orbital communication and navigation satellites are affected as the energy comes into contact with the atmosphere.
The possible applications of this new data was explained in a press release by CU-Boulder Senior Research Associate, and lead of EVE’s development, Tom Woods of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). “If we can get these new results into space weather prediction models, we should be able to more reliably forecast solar events and their effects on our communication and navigation systems on Earth,” Woods explained.
In addition, the ability of SDO to gather more precise data will give closer estimations of how much energy is being introduced into Earth’s environment from solar flares and how space weather is affected by the late phase radiation activity.
A complimentary instrument to EVE aboard SDO is the Advanced Imaging Assembly (AIA). Built by Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, AIA shows the secondary solar flare phase exhibited by coronal loops (magnetic field events) at a far distance above the initial flare event site, that gained length and brightness after the initial flare, and that they were separate physical entities.
Specially designed to study the sun, SDO was launched February 11, 2010, and is the most advanced instrument of its kind.
EVE is made up of three spectrographs to measure extreme solar ultraviolet radiation and two of the three were built at CU-Boulder’s LASP.
SDO was built, is operated and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD., and is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program (LWS).
For more information and pictures, go to http://www.nasa.gov/sunearth .
Additional reading about SDO and it’s mission can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/sdo .
A paper on the new findings, authored by Tom Woods, co-authored by Rachel Hock, can be seen in the September 7 issue of the online Astrophysical Journal.
attribution: press release (CU)