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This animation is an artist's concept of the path of a coronal mass ejection (CME) as it blasts through the solar system, past solar sentinels like SOHO, past Earth, Mars Odyssey at Mars, Ulysses at Jupiter, Cassini at Saturn and then onto Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 at the farthest point. Fast moving solar wind carves out a local cavity in the galaxy called the heliosphere that extends beyond the orbit of Pluto, the most distant planet. The orbits of the planets are represented as white elliptical lines. The yellow areas represent the CMEs -- billions of tons of electrified gas (plasma) -- launched by the solar storms of October-November 2003, which were the most severe on record. This plasma formed a blast wave as it raced as fast as 5 million miles per hour (eight million km/hr) through the solar system, traversing the 93 million miles (148 million km) from the Sun to the Earth in less than a day. Slowing to an average speed of 1.5 million miles per hour (2.4
million km/hr) as it plowed into the outer heliosphere, the blast wave reached Voyager 2 at 7 billion miles (11 billion kilometers) from the Sun on April 28 and continued outward toward Voyager 1 at almost 9 billion miles (14.5 billion km) from the Sun. In the months ahead, the blast wave will crash into the heliopause - the tangible edge of the heliosphere where the material ejected by the Sun piles up against the interstellar wind from explosions of nearby stars. The collision may generate extremely low-frequency radio signals that will give us a much more accurate understanding of the size of the Sun's domain. The energy carried by the material will push the interstellar gas outward by as much as 400 million miles (640 million km), about 4 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth.
Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer
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This is a multi-instrument movie of the October - November 2003 solar storms. The movie combines false-color views from three instruments on board the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. The Sun is the center object, in green. This view, from the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) instrument on board SOHO, shows a series of powerful solar explosions called solar flares in ultraviolet light. (Flares appear as bright sparks on the green disk). The middle image, in red, is a close up view of the solar atmosphere made with SOHO's Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) C2 instrument. This instrument makes an artificial eclipse of the Sun so the faint outer atmosphere (corona) can be seen. Massive eruptions of electrified gas (plasma) called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) can be seen as white areas moving rapidly away from the Sun. The outer image, in blue, is a wide-angle view of the corona made with SOHO's LASCO C3 instrument.
As the CMEs travel further from the Sun, they are seen as bright areas in this view. White dots that periodically obscure the image are electrically charged particles (electrons and atomic nuclei) that have been accelerated to high speeds by the flares and CMEs. They create spots on the image when they hit detectors in the instruments. This is one type of space radiation that can be hazardous to unprotected spacecraft and astronauts. The bright object moving to the left in part of the movie is the planet Mercury.
Credit: NASA/Tom Bridgman and the European Space Agency
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This movie is an artist's concept of the blast wave passing the Voyager spacecraft. Electrically charged gas (plasma) comprising the blast wave is represented by yellowish areas.
Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer
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This movie is an artist's concept showing the blast wave (CME) as it travels to the edge of the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the region where solar wind, i.e. the influence of the Sun, reigns supreme. In the movie, the Sun is the bright yellow dot in the center of the image, and the blast wave is represented by a yellow-orange blob that moves out away from the Sun. The orbits of the outer planets, in order of increasing distance from the Sun -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto -- are represented by white elliptical lines around the Sun. The solar wind (a thin stream of plasma that blows continuously from the Sun, represented in the movie by light streamers coming from the Sun) creates a bubble that envelops our solar system. A boundary, called the heliopause, exists separating our solar system from the vastness of interstellar space. The heliosphere is represented as the dark blue area enclosing the Sun and the planets, and the heliopause is the
blue line where the heliosphere meets the black area, which represents interstellar space. This boundary is fluid and changes with the cycles of the Sun; in this case, the "Halloween" storms were so intense that they also affected the boundaries of this region. Scientists predict that in a matter of months the shock wave will reach the heliopause and expand the region by as much as 400 million miles, much like an inflated balloon with more air pumped into it.
Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer
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