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Education Matters: Shiver in space gives scientists clue to high energy solar flares.

Warwick University scientists are learning more about super-high energy solar flares by discovering a way to listen to them.

The flares are made of 500,000 kilometre arches of super-heated plasma, releasing energy equal to 40 billion Hiroshima bombs.

They are big enough to affect telecommunications, GPS satellites and even energy supply lines. Astrophysicists have long been keen to listen to the acoustic waves in the flares to understand more about these gigantic events, but had been unable to find an effective way to do that safely.

Now researchers at the University of Warwick and Lockheed Martin's Solar and Astrophysics laboratory, have found a way to listen to how these loops 'shiver'. Lead researcher Dr Valery Nakariakov said: 'The closest analogy is the attack of shivering we suffer having a severe cold or fever.

'The University of Warwick team have found that they can use radio and X-ray observation to spot a shiver or oscillation in the really high temperature loops, which come in at about 20 million degrees Kelvin, that behaves like an acoustic wave.' Previously researchers had noted the acoustic oscillations but paid little attention to them as they were convinced they dissipated quickly and were therefore could not be monitored. However Dr Nakariakov and his team have been able to prove that these oscillations do not dissipate quickly and can in fact be sustained over a period from ten seconds to five minutes.

This means the data from the oscillations is much more useful than previously thought and can now be used, in combination with other observations, to calculate both the temperature and the length of each of these individual great loops of plasma.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 14, 2004
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