Space weather gets nasty when the sun starts shooting plasma into the cosmos, and these solar storms wreak havoc on both satellites and gadgets here on earth. Scientists want to predict the sun's eruptions so we can protect our gear (and know the best time to go tanning), and George Mason University researchers have made a discovery that may help us do so. By examining images from NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft, Professor Jie Zhang and grad student Xin Cheng determined that magnetic ropes are causing coronal ejections. The ropes are formed by several magnetic fields wrapped around each other, and scientists believe they can carry electrical currents strong enough to cause the plasma bursts. Prior to an eruption, Zhang observed a low-lying channel with unique electromagnetic properties (believed to be a magnetic rope) heat a portion of the sun's surface up to 10 million degrees. Once hot enough, the spot spewed forth copious amounts of the plasma and magnetic energy that gives GPS units and phones fits. Now that we know what gets Helios all riled up, we just need to find a way to calm him down. Close-ups of the sun in its tizzy are after the break.

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Sun's coronal ejections caused by magnetic ropes, galactic weathermen to predict solar storms?