Can we predict solar storms to protect against them?

Researchers have established the first map of the solar corona.

The Sun emits solar winds which can be more or less powerful. In the event of particular strong eruptions, “solar storms” have an impact on Earth. They can especially damage our electrical installations, by significantly disrupting energy distribution systems, aviation, communication and satellites. The reason is mainly to be found in the particles ejected from the atmosphere of the Sun when these events occur.

This atmosphere is called the solar corona, but this one is very difficult to study. First, because this layer itself, made of plasma (an extremely hot and ionized state of matter), is extremely thin. Then, this crown is obscured by… the light of the Sun, which camouflages what is close to it, and therefore necessarily its own atmosphere. To observe it, you have to fight with specific instruments. And with the naked eye, this is simply impossible, except in the event of a total solar eclipse, with appropriate glasses to protect yourself.

A solar flare. // Source: Wikimedia / CC / NASA / GSFC / SDO

A map of the solar magnetic field

To overcome this problem, which prevents us from accurately predicting solar storms, scientists have just come to grips with the very first map of the Sun’s magnetic field. Solar winds are indeed caused by the magnetic field, so this creates an ideal basis for establishing a relatively reliable predictive timing of eruptions. The scientific team behind this project reports on its progress in a research paper published on August 7, 2020 in Science.

To establish this map, the researchers used the Coronal Multi-channel Polarimeter, a high-precision instrument, which blocks the solar star and its luminosity, in order to isolate what surrounds it, its close atmosphere. They were thus able to measure elements such as the density of the plasma or the speed of solar winds. ” The method can potentially be used to produce routine maps of the corona magnetic field that would be similar to those already available for the solar surface. », We can read in the introduction of the paper.

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