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Solar Flares Intrigue Scientists

November 12, 2002

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SUNSPOT, N.M. (AP) _ Scientists say they have made the unprecedented discovery of solar flares erupting almost simultaneously on opposite sides of the sun.

The flares _ massive eruptions of hydrogen from the sun’s surface _ were observed by researchers at the National Solar Observatory in southern New Mexico on the morning of Oct. 31.

Simultaneous solar flares have been seen in the past, but never so far apart. Scientists at the observatory are trying to determine whether the eruptions were linked or a coincidence, said solar physicist Don Neidig.

Experts said the discovery could have far-reaching consequences if more cases are observed.

``Now we have only one example of two flares that go off simultaneously that far apart, so it could be an accident. If we see more of these ... then it becomes extremely important,″ said Stephen Greggor, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Mexico.

Observatory researchers speculated that magnetic fields may have primed the flares to erupt seconds apart. They cautioned, however, that there is too little data even to put forward a theory.

Solar flares are the largest known explosions in the solar system and are driven by magnetic fields. Neidig said the ones observed on Halloween had an explosive force equivalent to millions of hydrogen bombs.

The New Mexico scientists said they did not know if the flares had been observed anywhere else in the world.

The researchers were using a new solar telescope being developed by the Air Force to help predict dangerous conditions in space.


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