On March 7th, NASA’s Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope detected the highest energy light ever associated with an eruption from the sun. This news heralds Fermi as a space observatory, a new tool to help understand the solar outbursts during the sun’s period of maximum activity.
A solar flare is an explosive blast of light and charged particles. This specific burst was named X5.4 based on the intensity of the X-rays put off during the burst. The flare produced so many gamma rays – a form of light even greater then X-rays – that it became the brightest point in the gamma ray sky. The burst in march was longer then any recorded before, nearly double at 20 hours long.
“Seeing the rise and fall of this brief flare in both instruments allowed us to determine that some of these particles were accelerated to two-thirds of the speed of light in as little as 3 seconds,” said Michael Briggs, a member of GBM team at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Solar flares are on the rise as the sun reaches the peak of it’s 11 year activity cycle.
“Merged with available theoretical models, Fermi observations will give us the ability to reconstruct the energies and types of particles that interact with the sun during flares, an understanding that will open up whole new avenues in solar research,” said Gerald Share, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland in College Park.
I need your help, I’m looking for a direction with my NASA Wednesday posts. What type of information are you interested in? What topics do you want to see? Please drop me a line in the comments section and I’ll be sure to include it in the coming weeks.