Jan 24, 2012 (08:01 AM EST)
How NASA Keeps An Eye On Solar Storm
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
A NASA observational satellite captured a solar storm that was forecasted to reach the Earth Tuesday, an event scientists are watching closely because it could cause disruption to telecommunications or power grids.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the coronal mass ejection (CME)--which lasted nearly an hour and is the largest solar radiation storm since September 2005--on Sunday, according to the space agency.
Computer modeling done at NASA's Goddard Space Weather Center predicted the storm was moving at nearly 1,400 miles per second, which meant it would reach the Earth's magnetosphere--the magnetic field surrounding the planet--at 9 a.m. this morning EST, plus or minus seven hours.
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NASA posted online a video of the storm its satellite captured. The video shows the storm in teal, a color typically used to show light in what is called the 131 Angstrom wavelength, an easy one for viewing solar flare activity, according to NASA.
Solar storms are billion-ton clouds of solar plasma that are launched by the same explosions that spark solar flares. Although the storms don't normally affect the Earth's surface, they can damage satellites, disrupt communications, and cause power grid failures on Earth. NASA engages in numerous research activities to better predict solar storm activity to understand and mitigate its effects on Earth.
In addition to the research being conducted by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA also has been working to improve its forecasting of solar storms through technology aboard twin spacecrafts that observe the sun as part of its Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission.
The mission's crafts capture images of the sun from two different angles, and scientists have been using new ways to process these images to view how solar eruptions develop into space storms that can reach the Earth. This technology is aiding in computer modeling of space weather to improve the forecasting of solar storms like the one occurring Tuesday.
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