Eruptions from the Sun

The Sun often exhibits outbursts, launching material from its surface in powerful releases of energy. Recent analysis of such an outburst — captured on video by several Sun-monitoring spacecraft — may help us understand the mechanisms that launch these eruptions.

Many Outbursts

Solar jets are elongated, transient structures that are thought to regularly release magnetic energy from the Sun, contributing to coronal heating and solar wind acceleration. Coronal mass ejections (CMEs), on the other hand, are enormous blob-like explosions, violently ejecting energy and mass from the Sun at incredible speeds.

But could these two types of events actually be related? According to a team of scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China, they may well be. The team, led by Jiajia Liu, has analyzed observations of a coronal jet that they believe prompted the launch of a powerful CME.

Observing an Explosion

CME gif

Gif of a movie of the CME, taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly at a wavelength of 304Å. The original movie can be found in the article. [Liu et al.]

An army of spacecraft was on hand to witness the event on 15 Jan 2013 — including the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). The instruments on board these observatories captured the drama on the northern limb of the Sun as, at 19:32 UT, a coronal jet formed. Just eight minutes later, a powerful CME was released from the same active region.

The fact that the jet and CME occurred in the same place at roughly the same time suggests they’re related. But did the initial motions of the CME blob trigger the jet? Or did the jet trigger the CME?

Tying It All Together

In a recently published study, Liu and collaborators analyzed the multi-wavelength observations of this event to find the heights and positions of the jet and CME. From this analysis, they determined that the coronal jet triggered the release of material to form the CME, which then erupted into space — with the jet at its core — at speeds of over 1000 km/s.

Based on observed clues of the magnetic field configurations, the team has put together a theory for how this event unfolded. They believe that sudden magnetic reconnection in an active region accelerated plasma to form a large-scale coronal jet. This burst of energy also provided a push on a blob of gas, threaded with magnetic field lines, that lay above the jet. The blob then rose, and when the field lines broke, it was released as a CME with the jet at its core.


Jiajia Liu et al 2015 ApJ 813 115. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/813/2/115