James Anthony Phillips: Solar Flare Surprise.
Dec. 15, 2008: Solar flares are the most powerful explosions in the solar system. Packing a punch equal to a hundred million hydrogen bombs, they obliterate everything in their immediate vicinity. Not a single atom should remain intact.Read the whole thing.
At least that's how it's supposed to work.
"We've detected a stream of perfectly intact hydrogen atoms shooting out of an X-class solar flare," says Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. "What a surprise! These atoms could be telling us something new about what happens inside flares."
The event occurred on Dec. 5, 2006. A large sunspot rounded the sun's eastern limb and with little warning it exploded. On the "Richter scale" of flares, which ranks X1 as a big event, the blast registered X9, making it one of the strongest flares of the past 30 years.
NASA managers braced themselves. Such a ferocious blast usually produces a blizzard of high-energy particles dangerous to both satellites and astronauts. Indeed, moments after the explosion, radio emissions from a shock wave in the sun's atmosphere signaled that a swarm of particles was on its way.
An hour later they arrived. But they were not the particles researchers expected.
NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft made the discovery: "It was a burst of hydrogen atoms," says Mewaldt. "No other elements were present, not even helium (the sun's second most abundant atomic species). Pure hydrogen streamed past the spacecraft for a full 90 minutes."