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ACT now to track solar eruptions in 3D!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 13:17
Published on Wednesday, 29 June 2016 00:01

Scientists at Aberystwyth University have developed an automated method for three-dimensional tracking of massive eruptions from the Sun, called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). The Automated CME Triangulation (ACT) system uses data from three space-based observatories that orbit the Sun at different locations, allowing scientists to view the Sun and CMEs from different angles. ACT‘s ability to track whether a CME is heading towards Earth, and when it is likely to reach us, should lead to significant improvements in space weather forecasting. ACT will be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2016 in Nottingham by Joe Hutton on Wednesday 29th June.

During CMEs, billions of tonnes of solar material are thrown out into interplanetary space at speeds of up to 2500 kilometres per second. If directed at Earth, these eruptions can cause extensive and expensive disruption by damaging power, satellite and communication networks.

“All current CME tracking services rely on flat images from only one coronagraph to estimate the speed and acceleration of the eruption,” said Hutton. “Predictions are based on the hugely inaccurate assumption that the CME is always travelling at a right-angle to the observation, when it could actually be propagating in any direction.”

ACT works by bringing together data from coronagraph instruments on SOHO and the twin STEREO spacecraft. By isolating the CME signals in the data captured by the three coronagraphs, ACT is able to triangulate the position of a CME and determine the most likely region through which it passed at a given height above the Sun. The centre of this region gives the most likely direction that the CME will propagate in three-dimensions, as well as a reliable estimate for the size of the eruption.

“Using ACT, scientists can use the direction of CME travel to calculate true values for the velocity and acceleration of the eruption. They can also make accurate calculations for the total mass the of solar material that makes up the CME. By knowing the velocity and mass of the eruption we can gauge the impact the CME could have if it were to collide with the Earth,” said Hutton.


Science Contact

Joe Hutton
Aberystwyth University
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Media Contacts

Dr Robert Massey
Deputy Executive Director
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 3979
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 699
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Ms Anita Heward
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7756 034 243
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A sample result produced from the ACT method. It shows an image of a CME as seen by the SOHO-LASCO-C2 coronagraph. The result of the 3D detection is set into the centre and shows the region through which the CME passed. This is then wrapped onto a sphere and aligned with the coronagraph's position and orientation. The sphere in the top corner is the same result, orientated to better show the region of interest. Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/LASCO 

Notes for editors

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2016 (NAM 2016, takes place this year at the University of Nottingham from 27 June to 1 July. NAM 2016 brings together more than 550 space scientists and astronomers to discuss the latest research in their respective fields. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Follow the conference on Twitter via @rasnam2016

The University of Nottingham ( has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2015. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK by research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC, is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. STFC's Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC's astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory. Follow STFC on Twitter via @stfc_matters


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS,, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

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