A vast coronal mass ejection blasts away from the Sun. Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO
In August last year I wrote a feature for Sky at Night Magazine about how you could help STEREO mission scientists search for the building blocks of the object, known as Theia, that’s thought to have formed the Moon when it collided with the proto-Earth. Now the latest citizen science project to launch, ‘Solar Stormwatch’, is using data from the STEREO spacecraft to get the public studying another Solar System spectacle — coronal mass ejections.
Coronal mass ejections (or CMEs) are vast and violent eruptions of plasma from the Sun that travel at high-speed across our Solar System. Studying how CMEs and other similar solar phenomena are formed, and how they interact with the Earth, is one of the biggest (and perhaps most important) fields of solar science. The twin STEREO spacecraft are (literally) in a perfect position to do this, as they fly through space separated by huge distances. This allows them to create a three-dimensional picture of the huge clouds of material thrown out from the Sun. The short video below from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center explains a little more about how STEREO does this.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab
Solar Stormwatch, which launched today, is being run by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. It gives you the chance to monitor (almost) real-time images from the STEREO spacecraft to spot and track coronal mass ejections. Your efforts doing this can really help solar scientists as this page on the website explains nicely. I really like the smooth interface of the site and there’s a great deal of additional material to explore there on top of the citizen science activities themselves. Once you’re registered the website has everything you need to start seeking out solar storms, including several excellent tutorial videos (two of which I’ve embedded below) narrated by STEREO project scientist Dr Chris Davis. Who knows what you could discover? If previous citizen science projects are anything to go by it could be something very exciting!
Tutorial videos by the Royal Observatory Greenwich