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Solar cannibalism

11:39am, April 25, 2001

Billion-ton parcels of charged gas hurled from the sun can overtake and eat their

slower-moving gaseous brethren, according to researchers who presented their

findings March 27 at a meeting of the European Geophysical Society in Nice,


Cannibalism among these clouds of charged particles, known as coronal mass

ejections (CMEs), is more than an astronomical curiosity. CMEs can harm

communications and power systems on Earth. Commenting about the work, Ernest

Hildner, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space

Environment Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., says that combined CMEs can act

differently from single ejections. Astronomers may have to take that into account

when they predict earthly effects, he notes.

The collision of two CMEs could generate, for example, a single, more powerful

punch, slow the speed of the faster eruption, or direct the merged CME toward or

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