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Stormy Star

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The Sun Throws a Punch
Image by SOHO, ESA and NASA

The most powerful storms unleashed by the sun are coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. Solar gases are so hot that they are electrified, existing in a state of matter called plasma. The interaction between plasma and the sun's magnetic field is most dramatic during the solar max. When magnetic field lines become over-energized and snap, an immense cloud of plasma—a CME—can soar into space at one to five million miles (two to eight million kilometers) an hour. Though Earth's magnetosphere shields us from the storm, a CME can deform our magnetic field, leaving satellites exposed to the plasma's damaging particles. Under the right conditions, the magnetism of a CME can connect to Earth's magnetic field and drive enough energy into the upper atmosphere to create a power surge in electrical lines, causing power blackouts. This CME observed by SOHO on February 27, 2000, was not directed at Earth.

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