A new solar telescope captured the first high-resolution images of flaring magnetic structures on the Sun, providing insight into the origins of space weather.

Scientists at NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) looked at the Sun's solar flux ropes at their point of origin in the chromosphere. These "bundles" of magnetic fields twist around a common axis and are influenced by motion in the Sun's photosphere.

"These twisting magnetic loops have been much studied in the Sun's corona, or outer layer, but these are the first high-resolution images of their origination in the chromosphere below it. For the first time, we can see their twisting motion in great detail and watch how it evolves," said Haimin Wang, distinguished professor of physics at NJIT and the study's lead author.

The research team compiles a series of images that trace the formation of an S-shaped group of magnetic fields. The images showed a set of loops peel off from these bundles and grows upwards into a multi-strand flux rope in a matter of moments. Following this phenomenon, two flare ribbons appear at with side of the flux rope.

"We have been looking for erupting twisted solar flux ropes in the chromosphere, but observations of these eruptions under excellent conditions are very rare," Wang said.

Despite these struggles the new images reveal important new clues to the origin of the flux ropes and how they are linked to solar flares. Energy released from solar flares and other eruptions are believed to occur when magnetic field lines are twisted beyond a critical point that can be measured by the number of turns present in the twist. The largest eruptions trigger space weather, which is a combination of radiation, energetic particles, and magnetic fields from the Sun that can effect the Earth's near environment and disrupt communication and power lines.

"One of the exciting things about these new images is that we can now distinguish between mild twists and those severe enough to cause space weather," Wang said.  

The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature Communications.