ScienceShot: A Solar Slingshot

Like giant slingshots, magnetic ropes on the sun fling billions of tons of solar matter out into space, researchers revealed today at a Royal Astronomical Society meeting in Glasgow, United Kingdom. These so-called "flux ropes" build up energy in much the same way that an elastic band builds up energy as it's stretched. In the sun's case, magnetic energy forces a flux rope tens of thousands of kilometers upward from the surface. Then, when it snaps back, it creates a coronal mass ejection, which can disrupt communications and even electric power transmission on Earth. Learning more about these giant storms, the team says, will help technicians protect delicate equipment from their effects, both in orbit and on the ground.