Helios’ Fire Whip



Nothing is grandeur than the show of nature. The fire works from heavens are unmatchable to anything that is man-made. Every astronomer awes and observes the power of nature. The spectacle of any cosmic event is not just for visual muse but could also behold the vital information for our very existence. Sustenance of life in planet earth isn’t possible without water and sunlight. Sun, the gigantic fireball in the firmament, ejecting chunks of charged particles all the time along with the heat and light it is producing. The source of energy generation in sun is due to nuclear fusion, and that’s high school physics.


Structure of Sun


The structure of sun, in brief taking in to account of the visible portion to us alone, is two layered. The inner layer surrounding the core (of temp of 15 million °C) is the photosphere. Such high temperatures in the core favour the nuclear fusion. The outer layer is called (relatively cooler with temperatures at about 6000 °C) chromosphere. Lining the periphery of the Sun is the outer atmosphere corona of about 2 million °C hot.


Solar Flare Vs Earth


Sunspots are relatively dark and cooler spots found on the photosphere. The solar activity is not constant but waxes and wanes over a period of 11 years. This is popularly referred as the 11 year cycle. The number and sizes of these sun spots also varies over this period. The sun unleashes jets of gases into the space which are abundant in charged particles. This is called Coronal Mass Ejection (CMD) Depending on the intensity of the activity in the inner core the prominences in the coronal region will vary, some of the prominences reaching their jets of gases up to millions of kilometers. Such large energy releases are characterized by sudden flashes of light called solar flares. The charged particles sprayed thus into the space (termed as the Solar wind) reach the earth with great energies and may even travel beyond.


Image Credit : NASA

Image Credit : NASA


Magnetosphere is the protective shielding that nature has provided to earth. It buffers the earth from the solar wind which carries large swarms of charged particles, which may potentially be dangerous, from disrupting the satellite communications to attributing to the changes in our atmospheric activities. A decade ago astronomers witnessed the largest ever solar flare in recorded history on November 4th, 2003. That year the solar activity intensified right from the first week of June and the peak ejection was recorded by November.

The TIMID satellite launched by NASA became operative from Jan, 2002. This satellite is dedicated to monitor and study the least explored Mesosphere and lower atmosphere of earth and it focuses on studying the effect of sun on the earth’s atmosphere. Thanks to TIMID we’ve now quite a large chunk of data available with us, helping immensely in studying Solar activity.


Recently, last month an update from the astronomical fraternity came as a warning. NASA the leading space agency released a note on an upcoming solar storm. The solar maximum (the increased activity of the sun) this time has been monitored since 2010.Though it was speculated to reach its peak in June 13th, 2014, thankfully the storm narrowly missed earth.

A word about the title of today’s article- Helio is the god of Sun (Apollo is another) and by now hope you know what the fire whip mean!



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