Coronal Mass Ejections: Observations

David F. Webb 
Institute for Scientific Research, Boston College
Kenny Cottle, 885 Centre Street, Newton, MA 02459, USA

Timothy A. Howard 
Department of Space Studies, Southwest Research Institute
1050 Walnut Street, Suite 300, Boulder, CO 80302, USA

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This article has been revised on 28 December 2012 (see changes in detail).


Solar eruptive phenomena embrace a variety of eruptions, including flares, solar energetic particles, and radio bursts. Since the vast majority of these are associated with the eruption, development, and evolution of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), we focus on CME observations in this review. CMEs are a key aspect of coronal and interplanetary dynamics. They inject large quantities of mass and magnetic flux into the heliosphere, causing major transient disturbances. CMEs can drive interplanetary shocks, a key source of solar energetic particles and are known to be the major contributor to severe space weather at the Earth. Studies over the past decade using the data sets from (among others) the SOHO, TRACE, Wind, ACE, STEREO, and SDO spacecraft, along with ground-based instruments, have improved our knowledge of the origins and development of CMEs at the Sun and how they contribute to space weather at Earth. SOHO, launched in 1995, has provided us with almost continuous coverage of the solar corona over more than a complete solar cycle, and the heliospheric imagers SMEI (2003 – 2011) and the HIs (operating since early 2007) have provided us with the capability to image and track CMEs continually across the inner heliosphere. We review some key coronal properties of CMEs, their source regions and their propagation through the solar wind. The LASCO coronagraphs routinely observe CMEs launched along the Sun-Earth line as halo-like brightenings. STEREO also permits observing Earth-directed CMEs from three different viewpoints of increasing azimuthal separation, thereby enabling the estimation of their three-dimensional properties. These are important not only for space weather prediction purposes, but also for understanding the development and internal structure of CMEs since we view their source regions on the solar disk and can measure their in-situ characteristics along their axes. Included in our discussion of the recent developments in CME-related phenomena are the latest developments from the STEREO and LASCO coronagraphs and the SMEI and HI heliospheric imagers.

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