Newark, N.J.--The "weather" in space may have just gotten a bit more predictable. Using new digital equipment, a team of NJIT researchers has gotten a better look at the surface of the sun and what happens to it both before and during solar flares.
Working at NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory in California, a team led by physics professor Haimin Wang, Ph.D., produced a series of new images. They show for the first time that rapid changes in the magnetic fields emanating from the sun's surface are associated with flares and mass ejections of energy from the sun's corona. These eruptions are typically near areas known as "sunspots", which appear dark through telescopes because they have a lower surface temperature than that of their surrounding surface.
"This is good news for the researchers of space weather, because our information will enable scientists in industry and government to better understand and predict the likelihood of flares and prepare for and mitigate adverse consequences," says Wang.
Wang is scheduled to present the findings this week at the American Astronomical Society's solar physics division meeting at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
Solar flares are violent eruptions that send electromagnetic radiation into space, ultimately causing problems on earth by disrupting the atmosphere.
The flare-ups can interfere with satellite-based communications and television and radio broadcasts. That can mean disruptions in cell-phone service and flight communications.
Wang and colleagues produced images showing how the sun's surface changed during an after a flare. The research should enable scientists to predict when solar flares will erupt, how disruptive they will be, and how long they will last, he says.
Crucial to producing the images was a new imaging system known as a "digital magnetograph system" built by NJIT doctoral student Tom Spirock.
The team's work was also supported by grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research.