NASA's STEREO spacecraft and new data processing techniques have succeeded in tracking space weather events from their origin in the Sun's ultrahot corona to impact with the Earth 96 million miles away, resolving a 40-year mystery about the structure of the structures that cause space weather: how the structures that impact the Earth relate to the corresponding structures in the solar corona.
Despite many instruments that monitor the Sun and a fleet of near-earth probes, the connection between near-Earth disturbances and their counterparts on the Sun has been obscure, because CMEs and the solar wind evolve and change during the 96,000,000 mile journey from the Sun to the Earth.
STEREO includes "heliospheric imager" cameras that monitor the sky at large angles from the Sun, but the starfield and galaxy are 1,000 times brighter than the faint rays of sunlight reflected by free-floating electron clouds inside CMEs and the solar wind; this has made direct imaging of these important structures difficult or impossible, and limited understanding of the connection between space storms and the coronal structures that cause them.
Newly released imagery reveals absolute brightness of detailed features in a large geoeffective CME in late 2008, connecting the original magnetized structure in the Sun's corona to the intricate anatomy of an interplanetary storm as it impacted the Earth three days later. At the time the data were collected, in late 2008, STEREO-A was nearly 45 degrees ahead of the Earth in its orbit, affording a very clear view of the Earth-Sun line.
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