Left Menu
Development News Edition

NASA Sun data helps new model predict big solar flares

Using data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, scientists have developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun's biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine.

ANI | Washington DC | Updated: 01-08-2020 17:08 IST | Created: 01-08-2020 17:08 IST
NASA Sun data helps new model predict big solar flares
X-class solar flare flashing on the edge of the Sun. (Image Source: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO). Image Credit: ANI

Using data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, scientists have developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun's biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine. With more development, the model could be used to one day inform forecasts of these intense bursts of solar radiation.

As it progresses through its natural 11-year cycle, the Sun transitions from periods of high to low activity, and back to high again. The scientists focused on X-class flares, the most powerful kind of these solar fireworks. Compared to smaller flares, big flares like these are relatively infrequent; in the last solar cycle, there were around 50. But they can have big impacts, from disrupting radio communications and power grid operations, to -- at their most severe -- endangering astronauts in the path of harsh solar radiation. Scientists who work on modeling flares hope that one day their efforts can help mitigate these effects.

Led by Kanya Kusano, the director of the Institute for Space-Earth Environmental Research at Japan's Nagoya University, a team of scientists built their model on a kind of magnetic map: SDO's observations of magnetic fields on the Sun's surface. Their results were published in Science on July 30, 2020. It's well-understood that flares erupt from hot spots of magnetic activity on the solar surface, called active regions. (In visible light, they appear as sunspots, dark blotches that freckle the Sun.) The new model works by identifying key characteristics in an active region, characteristics the scientists theorized are necessary to setting off a massive flare.

The first is the initial trigger. Solar flares, especially X-class ones, unleash huge amounts of energy. Before an eruption, that energy is contained in twisting magnetic field lines that form unstable arches over the active region. According to the scientists, highly twisted rope-like lines are a precursor for the Sun's biggest flares. With enough twisting, two neighboring arches can combine into one big, double-humped arch. This is an example of what's known as magnetic reconnection, and the result is an unstable magnetic structure -- a bit like a rounded "M" -- that can trigger the release of a flood of energy, in the form of a flare.

Where the magnetic reconnection happens is important too, and one of the details the scientists built their model to calculate. Within an active region, there are boundaries where the magnetic field is positive on one side and negative on the other, just like a regular refrigerator magnet. "It's similar to an avalanche. Avalanches start with a small crack. If the crack is up high on a steep slope, a bigger crash is possible," Kusano said.

In this case, the crack that starts the cascade is magnetic reconnection. When reconnection happens near the boundary, there's potential for a big flare. Far from the boundary, there's less available energy, and a budding flare can fizzle out -- although, Kusano pointed out, the Sun could still unleash a swift cloud of solar material, called a coronal mass ejection. Kusano and his team looked at the seven active regions from the last solar cycle that produced the strongest flares on the Earth-facing side of the Sun (they also focused on flares from part of the Sun that is closest to Earth, where magnetic field observations are best).

SDO's observations of the active regions helped them locate the right magnetic boundaries, and calculate instabilities in the hot spots. In the end, their model predicted seven out of nine total flares, with three false positives. The two that the model didn't account for, Kusano explained, were exceptions to the rest: Unlike the others, the active region they exploded from was much larger and didn't produce a coronal mass ejection along with the flare.

"Predictions are the main goal of NASA's Living with a Star program and missions. Accurate precursors such as this that can anticipate significant solar flares show the progress we have made towards predicting these solar storms that can affect everyone" said Dean Pesnell, the SDO principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who did not participate in the study. SDO was the first Living with a Star program mission. While it takes a lot more work and validation to get models to the point where they can make forecasts that spacecraft or power grid operators can act upon, the scientists have identified conditions they think are necessary for a major flare.

Kusano said he is excited to have a promising first result. "I am glad our new model can contribute to the effort," he said.



5G will be the key driving force for COVID-19 recovery: Here's how?

... ...

Canada’s COVID-19 pitfalls highlight need for integrated health information system

In the globalized world of today where outbreaks can spread far and wide within a matter of days, a global-level integrated health information system is ideal but Canadas provincial barriers show that the country lags much behind in deployi...

Pandemic must be impetus, not obstacle, for clean water access

To make matters worse, there are suspicions that the inadequacy of wastewater treatment methods in California, the rest of the USA, and indeed around the world may help to propagate the disease even more widely. ...

3D printing and the future of manufacturing post COVID-19

The on-demand, customizable, and localized manufacturing of product components facilitated by 3D printing has the potential to redefine manufacturing but there are certain technical, mechanical, and legal limitations that, unless ...


Latest News

‘Urgent need’ to stop erosion of nuclear order, major UN disarmament forum hears

There is an urgent need to stop the erosion of the nuclear order. All countries possessing nuclear weapons have an obligation to lead, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva UNOG Tatiana Valovaya, told the Conference on Disarmament, wh...

Mariners ready for improved Astros lineup

The Houston Astros ailing offense is about to get a big boost. Manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday that reigning American League Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez, who has yet to play this season, could be back in a couple days.That would in...

U.S. plans major investment program with Colombia - White House

U.S. officials will unveil a major economic investment program with the Colombian government next week as Washington expands its drive to yank supply chains out of China and bring them closer to home, a senior White House official said Thur...

Rockets, 76ers finish restart without key players

All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook will not only miss the Houston Rockets final seeding game on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Westbrook will also be unavailable for the start of the Rockets playoff series against his former tea...

Give Feedback