coronal mass ejections

NASA: New Sun Images Might Provide Quicker Solar Flare Alerts

NASA’s new sun images might be able to offer faster predictions about solar flares. Data collected by astronomers could potentially gauge both the intensity and timing of solar storms headed in the direction of Earth.

The space agency unveiled its findings earlier this week. The short mission offered astronomers “unprecedented” images of the sun, according to The Space Reporter. The High Resolution Coronal Imager Hi-C telescope collected data which will be used to answer questions about the upper atmosphere of the sun. Scientists have reportedly often pondered why the sun’s upper atmosphere has hotter temperatures than its surface.

NASA scientists learned that the temperature differences are likely the result of magnetic loops. The loops are referred to as “braids” that trap plasma from the sun, the Los Angeles Times notes. The mission brought forth 165 never-before-seen photos of the sun, according to the NASA website.

The images reportedly zoned in on a “massive” active region on the sun. The telescope images also focused on the fine details of the solar atmosphere of the sun. Astronomers feel that the new information could lead to quicker and better solar activity forecasts. Both NASA and the Natioanl Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are “largely” unable to track solar flares on a “day-to-day” basis.”

Hi-C mission investigator Jonathan Cirtain had this to say about solar flare predictions during a NASA teleconference:

“The high temperature atmosphere is where space weather is initiated and where energetic events like flares and coronal mass ejections can originate. So understanding the energy supply for the corona has implications across the stellar structure and heliophysics, in general.”

Numerous research studies to estimate the cost of a major solar storm hitting Earth have been conducted in the past. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that a massive coronal mass ejection could destroy at least 300 high voltage transformers in the power grid. If just a few important transformers were destroyed, most of the country would be rocked back to an 1800s existence.

The NAS report also notes that cell phones, GPS systems, and other techno gadgets would be affected. If a massive solar flare hit Earth, an expected $2 trillion in damages would occur. Some feel that a massive solar flare hit the most expensive environmental disaster in history. The NASA images are considered very timely by some researchers. Both NASA and NOAA have reported that we can expect to experience more intense solar storms throughout 2013.

[Image via NASA]