In this ultraviolet light video taken by NASA, you can watch a phenomenon that scientists didn't believe could exist until a few months ago. An entire hemisphere of the sun explodes, one region igniting another. What does this discovery mean?
It turns out that the sun doesn't just spurt out gouts of gas in isolated spots. In fact, our star's magnetic field brings many regions of Sol's surface into direct relationships with each other, so areas separated by millions of miles can literally spark each other up. The results are called "sympathetic flares."
According to a release from NASA:
For the past three months, [astrophysicist Karel] Schrijver has been working with fellow Lockheed-Martin solar physicist Alan Title to understand what happened during the "Great Eruption." They had plenty of data: The event was recorded in unprecedented detail by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and twin STEREO spacecraft. With several colleagues present to offer commentary, they outlined their findings at a press conference today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Explosions on the sun are not localized or isolated events, they announced. Instead, solar activity is interconnected by magnetism over breathtaking distances. Solar flares, tsunamis, coronal mass ejections—they can go off all at once, hundreds of thousands of miles apart, in a dizzyingly-complex concert of mayhem.
"To predict eruptions we can no longer focus on the magnetic fields of isolated active regions," says Title, "we have to know the surface magnetic field of practically the entire sun."
This revelation increases the work load for space weather forecasters, but it also increases the potential accuracy of their forecasts.
"The whole-sun approach could lead to breakthroughs in predicting solar activity," commented Rodney Viereck of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, CO. "This in turn would provide improved forecasts to our customers such as electric power grid operators and commercial airlines, who could take action to protect their systems and ensure the safety of passengers and crew."
Read more about this remarkable Great Eruption via NASA.