Coronal Mass Ejections

A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a large release of plasma and magnetic field into the solar wind from the Sun’s corona. An interplanetary coronal mass ejection (ICME) occurs when a CME penetrates into the interplanetary space. ICMEs have the ability to reach Earth’s magnetosphere and collide with it, causing geomagnetic storms, aurorae, and, in rare situations, damage to electrical power networks.

Solar flares and other kinds of solar activities are frequently related to the onslaught of CMEs.

The topic has a high probability of being asked as a Current Affairs Question and as Science and Technology Questions in IAS Prelims and Mains.

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About Coronal Mass Ejections

  • Coronal Mass Ejections expel plasma, which is mostly composed of electrons and protons.
  • A typical CME has three different characteristics:
    • a low electron density cavity,
    • a dense core,
    • and a brilliant leading edge.
  • It is one of the largest eruptions from the surface of the Sun, capable of containing a billion tonnes of matter propelled into space at speeds of several million miles per hour.
  • The Sun creates roughly three CMEs each day near Solar Maxima, and about one CME per five days near Solar Minima.

Fact: The fourth state of matter is also known as plasma. At very high temperatures, electrons are stripped from the nuclei of atoms, resulting in a plasma or ionised state of matter.

Fact: Solar Maxima and Solar Minima are the time of intensely high and low activities respectively by the Sun.

Note: IAS exam could ask basic details about this topic as it has been in the news recently.

Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections

  • ICMEs usually take between one to five days to reach Earth after leaving the Sun.
  • ICMEs engage with the solar wind and the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) throughout their propagation, and depending on the situation, they accelerate or decelerate to match the solar wind’s speed.
  • Shock waves are generated by ICMEs that travel faster than 500 km/h (310 mi/h).

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Effects of Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections on Earth

  • Geomagnetic Storm: caused by the shock wave of moving mass, which may also disturb Earth’s magnetosphere.
  • Aurora: In vast areas surrounding Earth’s magnetic poles, solar energetic particles can create extremely powerful auroras. In the northern hemisphere, these are known as the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), whereas in the southern hemisphere, they are known as the Southern Lights (aurora australis).
  • disruption of Radio Transmissions.
  • damage to Satellites.
  • damage to Electrical Transmission Line Facilities.

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Recent Developments

  • Indian scientists from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), working alongside international collaborators, have assessed the magnetic field of a solar corona eruption, providing a rare glimpse into the Sun’s interior.
    • The IIA’s radio telescopes, as well as certain space based observatories that monitored the Sun in extreme ultraviolet and white light, were used to detect the emissions.
    • They were also capable of determining the polarisation of the emission, which indicates the direction in which the waves’ electric and magnetic components fluctuate.

Fact: Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) is an autonomous institute under the Department of Science & Technology (DST), situated at Gauribidanur, Karnataka.

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