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Jul 12, 2013 09:58 AM EDT

Solar Tsunami Gives Scientists a Rare Look at Weather Phenomenon


Two satellites caught a tsunami on the surface of the Sun, a very rare space weather occurrence that could help scientists on Earth, BBC News reported.

The tsunami occurred after a release of matter into space called a coronal mass ejection (CME) and it could give scientists a rare look into how such an event might unfold on Earth.

The Japanese satellite Hindoe and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) both look at ultraviolet light from the sun to determine chemical makeup and physical conditions near the ultra-hot surface.

Hindoe also may have enough data to explain why the Sun's multimillion-degree corona is so much hotter than its surface.

Dr. David Long of University College London and his team noticed EIT waves following the CMEs. EIT waves are shock waves, similar to how a tsunami emanates after a seismic event, carrying magnetic fields along with it.

"These EIT waves are quite tricky - they're very random and they're relatively rare," Long told BBC News. "We need to be in the right place at the right time; this has been a long time coming."

The SDO satellite caught the waves as they were being emitted, clocking them at speeds of 400 km per second and measuring its temperature at more than a million degrees. Every 45 seconds, Hindoe returned a high-resolution map of the density of the Sun's surface.

"This tells us a lot about the nature of the Sun and what goes on in the atmosphere," Long said. "These waves are quite important because they're associated with CMEs that fire plasma out into the heliosphere, toward the Earth."

The CMEs are known to be able to disrupt communications, and even knock out power, on Earth. Scientists are struggling to predict their actions, but data like Hindoe and SDO's is a step in the right direction.

"Generally we see them when there's a CME coming straight at us - but when it's coming straight at us then it's quite difficult to measure how fast it's coming at us or how strong it is," Long said. "So by looking at these waves, we should be able to infer how powerful these CMEs are going to be."

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