The sun has experienced a multi-stage eruption that NASA says revealed new clues that could help scientists solve some long-standing mysteries about what causes this sort of powerful and unpredictable eruption. NASA is attempting to uncover the fundamental physics to help scientists better predict eruptions of this type in the future. NASA wants to be able to predict this sort of eruption because they can lead to dangerous space weather conditions on Earth.
The explosion contained components of three different types of solar eruptions that typically occur separately. NASA notes this is the first time such an event has been reported. Having all three types of eruption events together in a single event has provided scientists with what NASA describes as a “solar Rosetta Stone.” The event allowed researchers to translate what they know about each type of eruption and understand other types while uncovering an underlying mechanism that possibly explains all three eruption types.
NASA scientist Emily Mason, a lead author on the new study, says that the event is a “missing link.” Mason says scientists could see all of these aspects of different types of eruptions in a single package. Mason also notes that the event shows that the eruptions are caused by the same mechanism but at different scales. Solar eruptions typically take three forms, including coronal mass ejection, a jet, or a partial eruption.
Coronal mass ejections and jets are explosive eruptions that throw energy and particles into space, but they appear very different. Jets erupt as narrow columns of solar material while coronal mass ejections form huge energy bubbles that expand out while being pushed and sculpted by the magnetic field of the sun. Partial eruptions start from the surface but don’t produce enough energy to leave the sun, so most of the material falls back down onto the solar surface.
NASA observed the latest eruption with the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Scientists plan to model the Rosetta eruption and others to determine the root mechanism that causes these types of events. Discovering the trigger could help scientists predict when large eruptions could threaten the Earth and Mars several hours in advance.