An x-ray satellite image of a solar storm
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An x-ray satellite image of a solar storm

May 19, 2010
An x-ray satellite image of a solar storm, an occurrence that takes place as the sun reaches its solar maximus, part its normal 11-year cycle.

More About this Image: Solar storms and solar activity increase as the sun reaches its solar maximus, part of the sun's normal 11-year cycle. These solar storms send bubbles of gas pelting into Earth, causing magnetic storms--periods of wild fluctuation in magnetic fields and electrical currents. The modern world is particularly vulnerable to these storms because of our dependency on satellite technology and large energy grids. As the streams of ions rocket through space, they push against Earth's magnetosphere (the area around the planet that is affected by Earth's magnetic field), allowing normally protected satellites to be exposed to storm conditions.

In November 1993, a giant bubble of gas erupted from the sun. Rocketing through space at approximately 1.5 million miles per hour, the collection of hydrogen and helium ions disrupted Earth's satellites, ignited northern lights and triggered voltage fluctuations in the trans-Atlantic communication cables. National Science Foundation-funded physicist Lt. Col. Delores Knipp of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and colleagues, organized an international team of 100 scientists to perform a "tag team" study of the event, with each researcher studying a different part of the bubble's voyage to and its effects on Earth. It was the first international and multiagency, coordinated effort to understand and diagnose a large event in space weather.

Scientists hope that by studying and understanding these events, we will have the ability to predict future storms.

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