Friday, April 13, 2012

TWINS Watch A 2 Million MPH Solar Storm

"Understanding how solar events develop and impact satellites is like understanding the processes that cause extreme weather events on Earth to develop and destroy homes and businesses," says McComas. "Engineers use weather data to know where and how they need to strengthen buildings against various types of weather threats. The more we know about the processes occurring in space, the better engineers can design satellites to protect them from space weather hazards, which is increasingly important in our highly technological world."

(Science 20) On April 5, 2010, the sun spewed a two million-mile-per-hour stream of charged particles toward the magnetosphere, the invisible magnetic fields surrounding Earth.

As the particles interacted with the magnetic fields, the incoming stream of energy caused stormy conditions near Earth. Some scientists believe that it was this solar storm that interfered with commands to a communications satellite, Galaxy-15, which subsequently foundered and drifted, taking almost a year to return to its station.

Scientists study the full chain of space weather events from first eruptions on the sun to how the magnetic fields around Earth compress and change shape in response in order to better learn how to protect satellites. During the April 5 storm, two NASA Heliophysics System Observatory missions – the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) and two spacecraft called the Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Spectrometers (TWINS) – were perfectly positioned to view the storm from complementary viewpoints. Read More