Spectacular footage of what first appeared to be a solar eruption, but then turned out to be something else, has given scientists insight into the sun's magnetic landscape.
On September 30, 2014, a suite of NASA instruments spotted what appeared to be a solar eruption - but soon after, a serpentine structure known as a filament rose from the surface and collapsed, being shredded to pieces by invisible magnetic forces.
A study on the phenomenon revealed it was caused by a filament pushing up against a complex magnetic structure 'like two igloos smashed against each other,' which then ate away at the filament and caused chips of solar material to spray.
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The onset of the near-eruption. The scientists had so many instruments on the sun that they were able to record the whole event with different wavelengths of light. 'Remove one instrument, and you're basically blind,' Georgios Chintzoglou, lead author of the paper said
Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.
Astronauts are not in immediate danger because of the relatively low orbit of this manned mission.
They do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.
The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing the Earth's magnetic field.
Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.
A filament is a serpentine structure consisting of dense solar material and often associated with solar eruptions
A paper on the event was published yesterday in The Astrophysical Journal.
'Each component of our observations was very important,' said Georgios Chintzoglou, lead author of the paper and a solar physicist at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
'Remove one instrument, and you're basically blind.'
'In solar physics, you need to have good coverage observing multiple temperatures.'
'If you have them all, you can tell a nice story.'
The tools behind the footage include: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), JAXA/NASA's Hinode, and several ground-based telescopes in support of the launch of the NASA-funded VAULT2.0 sounding rocket.
Together, these instruments monitor the sun at different wavelengths of light, showing both the Sun's surface and lower atmosphere in a way that allows scientists to track an eruption from its onset up through the solar atmosphere.
It can also enabled them to figure out why this one ultimately faded away.
'We were expecting an eruption; this was the most active region on the Sun that day,' said Angelos Vourlidas, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and principal investigator of the VAULT2.0.
'We saw the filament lifting with IRIS, but we didn't see it erupt in SDO or in the coronagraphs. That's how we knew it failed.'
That day, IRIS and the VAULT2.0 sounding rocket - a sub-orbital rocket that orbits earth for 20 minutes, collecting data for part of its time in the atmosphere - were pointed at the aforementioned active region.
When the solar eruption was expected, they instruments instead capture the collapse.
After studying the event, they now believe the filament must have met some magnetic boundary that prevented the unstable structure from erupting.
The solar physicists used the sun's magnetic feature to understand the force, much like how scientists use topographical data to study Earth.
Mid-event when the filament instead pushed up against a complex magnetic structure. The scientists described