WASHINGTON — NASA's solar probe witnessed a powerful eruption from the sun and caught it all on camera.
The space agency announced last week that its Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, "soared gracefully" through one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections ever recorded. The probe not only survived the Sept. 5, 2022, event but provided scientists with footage of the rare phenomenon.
Coronal mass ejections, also known as CMEs, are intense eruptions from the sun's outer atmosphere that can influence space weather, NASA said. CMEs "can expel magnetic fields and sometimes billions of tons of plasma at speeds ranging from 60 to 1,900 miles per second," according to John Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory.
When these eruptions are directed toward Earth, they could impact our magnetic field, sometimes resulting in auroral shows. If the blasts are strong enough, they can also disrupt satellite electronics and even knock out electrical grids on the ground, according to the laboratory.
"This is the closest to the sun we've ever observed a CME," Nour Raouafi, the Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the laboratory said in a statement. "We've never seen an event of this magnitude at this distance."
The CME that the solar probe experienced was so strong in magnitude that if directed toward Earth, Raouafi suggested it would have compared to the Carrington Event -- an 1859 solar storm regarded as the most powerful on record to hit Earth.
"The potential damage of this class of event, large and very fast CMEs, can be colossal," Raouafi said.
The CME caught on camera blasted dust, made up of tiny particles from asteroids, comets and planets, as far as six million miles away from the sun. According to NASA, that's as far as one-sixth of the distance between the sun and mercury.
The space agency said the dust was replenished "almost immediately" by the interplanetary dust in our solar system.
The probe's footage of a CME in action is also helping scientists understand how fast these eruptions travel and aid in forecasting when they will impact Earth.
"These interactions between CMEs and dust were theorized two decades ago but had not been observed until Parker Solar Probe viewed a CME act like a vacuum cleaner, clearing the dust out of its path," said Guillermo Stenborg, an astrophysicist at the John Hopkin's lab.