Discovery of magnetic ‘ropes’ that cause solar storms will help prepare Earth for space weather damage

As Britain prepares itself for a massive solar flare that could knock out the national grid within the next two years, a breakthrough by scientists may at least minimise any damage caused.

A team at George Mason University have found that solar storms are caused by giant magnetic ‘ropes’.

It is a key first step in helping to mitigate the adverse effects that solar storm eruptions can have on satellite communications on Earth.

The study found that the ropes – made up of twisting magnetic field lines – could produce the strong electric currents needed to trigger the solar storms.

The breakthrough was made in Washington D.C. by associate professor Jie Zhang and his graduate student Xin Cheng using images from the Nasa Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft (SDO).

Though the magnetic rope was believed to be the cause of these giant eruptions on the sun, scientists had previously not been able to prove this phenomenon existed because of how quickly the rope moves.

However, through close examination of images taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) telescope on board the SDO, Zhang was able to pinpoint an area of the sun where a magnetic rope was forming.

The AIA telescope suite is able to capture images of the sun every ten seconds, 24 hours a day. This unprecedented cadence in time helped the discovery.

‘The magnetic rope triggers a solar eruption. Scientists have been debating whether or not this magnetic rope exists before a solar eruption. I believe that the result of this excellent observation helps finally solve this controversial issue,’ Zhang said.

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