April 15, 2011

Coronal mass ejection captured by STEREO

NASA released images from a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) captured by the instrument SECCHI on board the two twin probes which form the STEREO mission (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) of NASA. The mission, launched in October 2006, is dedicated to the study of Earth-Sun relations. The instruments were designed and developed by American and European scientists. Various French scientific teams from laboratories of CNRS, supported by CNES, contributed to the development of three of the instruments on the probes.
Angelos Vourlidas, responsable scientifique du projet SECCHI, parle des éjections de masse coronale, des explosions de l'atmosphère du soleil qui se propagent dans l'espace sous forme de nuages - crédit : NASA
Angelos Vourlidas, Principal Investigator of the SECCHI project, explains the coronal mass ejections: explosions of the Sun's atmosphere which billow into space like clouds - credits: NASA

The STEREO mission provides new information on CMEs as part of the international space weather program. One of the probes orbits the Sun ahead of Earth, distancing itself from it, while the other orbits our star behind the Earth, and gradually gets distanced by it. The two probes currently form a 45° angle with Earth and the Sun. With this angle, CMEs can be studied sideways which enables to map their structure in 3D.

The 3D images thus formed from the data of SECCHI are then combined with the in situ data of other instruments on the probes, as well as with data from other space and ground observatories (the radioheliograph from the radio-astronomy station of the Observatory of Paris in Nançay is among them).

Antenne CNES - crédit : CNES
CNES antenna - credits: CNES

Those observations complete our 3D vision of these phenomena, from their origin on the star to the Earth vicinity. They study the magnetic energy storage processes and the physical conditions which cause the ejections, and study their progression in the interplanetary medium. This should dramatically increase the forecast capabilities on the effect of these perturbations on the Earth environment.

A network of ground stations, set up by NOAA, constantly receives data in near real time from STEREO, which are then processed and interpreted by the French scientific teams.

A CNES antenna in the Toulouse area was set up to complete this first global space weather network.

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