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December 13: A Mass-loading Type Solar Eruption

  December 13: A Mass-loading Type Solar Eruption  
  SWAP-SECCHI Observations of a Mass-loading Type Solar Eruption  


Click on the above image for a link to a paper describing the eruption



Although the solar physics community agrees on the basic physics behind solar eruptions, their exact causes remain the subject of much debate. We know that only the magnetic field of the solar corona is capable of storing sufficient energy to power eruptions, with their associated coronal mass ejections and solar flares, but how this energy is stored up and released, and exactly what physical mechanisms can set off an eruption is something solar physicists argue about.

In fact, one of the reasons solar physicists are still arguing about this is probably that any number of mechanism can play a role in touching off an eruption.  In the paper above, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, several members of the SWAP team present observations that suggest a new type of eruption trigger may have been at work. These scientists used images from SWAP and from the twin STEREO spacecraft, which circle the Sun in orbits ahead of and behind the Earth, to make three dimensional reconstructions of the structures involved in a solar eruption that occurred on April 3, 2010. These reconstructions show that the eruption was precipitated by a large outflow of cool, dense material from the base of the erupting structure.

The flow of this material apparently caused the erupting structure to begin to rise slowly. When it reached a critical height, the magnetic forces constraining it could no longer slow its rise, and it rapidly accelerated, setting off a feedback loop that further powered it via the process of magnetic connection. These observations were the first convicing evidence that such a mechanism might work and were the first to use SWAP data in conjunction with data from another spacecraft to make a three-dimensional reconstruction of structures in the solar corona.

This particular eruption is of great interest to space weather forecasters, since the CME it caused is believed to be responsible for the failure of the Galaxy-15 communications satellite on April 5, 2010. The satellite was finally recovered in December of that year.