Recently, researchers published the very first magnetic map of the solar corona, part of the Sun’s atmosphere—a breakthrough that could in the future make it possible to accurately predict solar storms whose impacts on Earth are not negligible.

Our Sun emits solar winds whose power is variable. In the case of eruptions of a certain intensity, it becomes a question of solar storms having an impact on our planet. These events eject particles from the Earth’s atmosphere capable of damaging Earth’s electrical installations. These disturbances therefore affect energy distribution systems, communication systems, satellites and even aviation. In 2017, US researchers evoked coronal mass ejections (CME) that could potentially generate magnetic storms. However, these are events capable of weakening the Earth’s magnetic field.

When we talk about the atmosphere of the Sun, you should know that only a part of it really interests us. This is the solar corona, located beyond the chromosphere and extending over several million kilometers, diluting in space. However, this layer of the Sun’s atmosphere is particularly difficult to study. Indeed, it is made of plasma, extremely thin and above all partially camouflaged by sunlight. All this therefore disturbs the observations, although specific instruments exist. Unfortunately without precise observations, it becomes impossible to correctly predict these famous solar storms.

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In a study published in the journal Science on August 7, 2020, an international team of researchers details its progress in this area. Scientists say they have developed the very first map of the solar corona. It is actually a map of the Sun’s magnetic field. Indeed, the magnetic field is at the origin of the solar winds. For the project managers, this map would represent an ideal basis for establishing a relatively reliable predictive schedule.

The map was constructed using the Coronal Multi-channel Polarimeter (CoMP), a high precision filter/polarimeter. This device indeed makes it possible to “block” the Sun and its luminosity in order to isolate what surrounds it. Thanks to a clearer vision, scientists have already been able to measure the density of the plasma as well as the speed of the solar winds. Finally, research is continuing to develop routine maps of the corona magnetic field, similar to those already available for the surface of the Sun.

Joseph Mandell

Mandell is currently working towards a medical degree from the University of Central Florida. His main passions include kayaking, playing soccer and tasting good food. He covers mostly science, health and environmental stories for the Scientific Origin.