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‘Campfires’ detected in close-up photos of the sun

The solar corona, which extends millions of miles into space, is more than a million degrees Celsius, while the surface of the sun is just 5500 Celsius.

Scientists think the campfires may be related to changes in the sun’s magnetic field as small fields get tangled and stressed, then expand like rubber bands, and eventually tear, releasing energy and heat. These campfires could contribute significantly to heating the solar corona.

A close-up of the "campfires" on the sun.

A close-up of the “campfires” on the sun.Credit:ESA

“For these campfires to be impacting space weather, they have to be magnetically connected to interplanetary space. There might be areas where they make it into space, and we might be able to identify a link, and nail down the driving mechanism that causes space weather,” said Daniel Muller, ESA Solar Orbiter project scientist.

Dr David Long, a co-principal investigator on the ESA Solar Orbiter Mission extreme ultraviolet imager which captured the images, said the level of detail the photos provide was impressive.

“No images have been taken of the sun at such a close distance before, and the level of detail they provide is impressive. They show miniature flares across the surface of the sun, which look like campfires millions of times smaller than the solar flares that we see from Earth.

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“Dotted across the surface, they might play an important role in a mysterious phenomenon called coronal heating, whereby the sun’s outer layer, or corona, is more than 200-500 times hotter than the layers below.”

Studying the sun is critical to plan for disruptive space weather events known as coronal mass ejections, which could wipe out GPS systems, destroy electricity grids, and potentially cause food shortages and continent-wide blackouts.

The biggest recorded geomagnetic storm happened in September 1859, when the sun flung a colossal wave of electrified gas and subatomic particles at Earth, crippling telegraph systems and showering operators with sparks.

A geomagnetic storm left 6 million Canadians without power in 1989.

Scientists have no way at present to predict such an event, but gaining more information will help them understand why and how they build up.

A recent analysis shows that “severe” magnetic storms occurred in 42 of the last 150 years, and “great” super-storms occur six times in every 150 years.

The Telegraph, London

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