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Quasi-Periodic Pulsations in the Earth’s Ionosphere Synchronized with Solar Flare Emission

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posted on 16.12.2017 by Laura Hayes, Peter Gallagher
Solar flare activity is a powerful factor affecting the geophysical processes in the Earth’s ionosphere. In particular, X-ray photons with wavelength < 10 A can penetrate down to the D-region (~60-90 km in altitude) resulting in a dramatic increase of ionization in this lowest lying region of the Earth’s ionosphere. This manifests as a substantial enhancement of electron density height profile at these altitudes to extents large enough to change the propagation conditions for Very Low Frequency (VLF 3-30 kHz) radio waves that travel in the waveguide formed by the Earth and the lower ionosphere. Recently, it has become clear that flares exhibit quasi-periodic pulsations with periods of seconds to minutes at EUV, X-ray and gamma-ray wavelengths. To date, it has not been known if the Earth's ionosphere is sensitive to these dynamic solar pulsations. Here, we report ionospheric pulsations with periods of ~20 minutes that are synchronized with a set of pulsating flare loops using VLF observations of the ionospheric D-layer together with X-ray and EUV observations of a solar flare from the NOAA/GOES and NASA/SDO satellites. Modeling of the ionosphere show that the D-region electron density varies by up to an order of magnitude over the timescale of the pulsations. Our results show that the Earth's ionosphere is more sensitive to small-scale changes in solar activity than previously thought.

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