SOHO discovery of Solar Tsunami
Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)

Solar Tsunami

Movie audiences are astounded by effects in disaster movies. A particularly popular one these days is the "mile-high" tsunami, produced by some end-of-the world scenario (like an asteroid strike, or superheating of the earth's core from massive doses of solar neutrinos - well movies don't always need to make sense). But imagine a tsunami not a mile high but thousands of miles high - bigger than the earth. This is so hard to imagine that astronomers, when presented with the first evidence of this cataclysm, did not quite believe their eyes. Or rather the eyes of the Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO), which snapped the above images of the sun in July 1996, apparently showing an enormous circular wave expanding outward from some sort of solar eruption. But the scale was literally unbelievable, and astronomers supposed other less extreme explanations could be responsible - perhaps some sort of shadow or other phenomena. But the twin spacecraft of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories (STEREO) finally confirmed the the reality of "solar tsunamis", and showed their enormous scale. Both spacecraft observed the same eruption of a sunspot from two different angles. As STEREO showed, the sunspot hurled a billion-ton cloud of gas into space, while at the same time it produced a giant magneto-hydrodynamic wave of plasma spreading outward along the sun's surface.
Published: November 23, 2009

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 08-Apr-2011 14:53:27 EDT