kaBLAM! Footage of the X-class solar flare

By Phil Plait | February 17, 2011 11:06 am

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has a nice video of the solar flare and coronal mass ejection from February 15th which I uploaded to YouTube:

[More formats are available at NASA’s SDO site.] Whoa! We’re in no major danger from this event, but wow, that’s cool. So what did you just see?

As I described in an earlier post, Sunspot 1158 is an active region on the Sun, with a lot of magnetic energy stored up. That energy got released with a bang on Tuesday, creating a solar flare — essentially a magnetic bomb on the surface of the Sun — and a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a huge eruption of subatomic particles blasting outward from the Sun.

The flare can be seen as the sudden bright flash just below and to the right of the center of the Sun’s disk. At the same time you can see an expanding circle of light centered on the Sun. That last bit is the CME. We see these launching off the Sun quite often; usually headed off to the side, looking like a big loop or light-bulb shape moving off. When they head straight Earth, though, they look like a circle that expands as it approaches. That’s how you can tell we’re in the way!

As I mention in the other post (and in Chapter 2 of my book Death from the Skies!), flares and CMEs can present a real danger to Earth, though this particular event wasn’t too worrisome. The most likely outcome is some disruption in radio communications, but more happily it also means potentially intense aurorae, northern and southern lights. SpaceWeather.com is always a good place to look for images of these beautiful events. There may be some aurorae tonight from this event, in fact. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center posts aurora maps, so you can see if you live in an area that might be treated with these eerie and literally unearthly lights.


Related posts:

Sunspot 1158 ain’t done yet
The green fire of the southern lights
One solar piece of flare
A HUGE looping prominence on the Sun!

Comments (35)

  1. I hate my school firewall, anyways ill wait till i get home to see this:(

  2. It seems like it should have a “bang” sound added to it.

  3. Mike

    Two days later and I’m still seeing panicked news articles about a disruption in global communications, and how our electrical grids are going to short out (sigh).

  4. I’d love to see some auroral lights here but I think the Texas school board has decided they don’t exist.

  5. @J. Major (#3), that seriously made me LOL! Thankfully no one was outside my office to hear me chortle like a fool.

  6. miss k

    Full moon tonight, that won’t help viewing :(

  7. David H

    How closely is all this recent hubbub over Sol related to STEREO coming into position?

  8. Keith Hearn

    @miss k (#5) No, but it’s a good night to play nethack. :)

  9. ASFalcon13

    It’s quote-mining time, baby!

    “Whoa! We’re in…major danger from this…magenetic bomb on the surface of the Sun.”

    You heard it here first, folks!

  10. Carey

    The maps on the NOAA Space Weather site seem to indicate that there could be aurorae as far south as the Mason-Dixon line. Am I reading that correctly?

  11. Joseph G

    Whoof!! That one blew my hair back :D

  12. Charlie Young

    The MSM picks up on this and blows up the satellite communication and power grid disruption, then the weather guy comes on and gives us the real story about how the disruption is unlikely but the Northern (or Southern) lights will be spectacular.

  13. Michael Swanson

    @3. Mike

    “Two days later and I’m still seeing panicked news articles about a disruption in global communications, and how our electrical grids are going to short out (sigh).”

    I wish. If the Pacific Northwest power grid would just blow out I might get a day or two off of work. (sigh)

  14. DrFlimmer

    Weired. On the video that “massive magneto-bomb” doesn’t look like much. A short, almost unnoticed flash of light, and that’s basically it.
    And then one starts to remember what one’s looking at, especially the scales. HOLY CRAP!

    @3 Mike

    Yeah, today it was big news that we’re all doomed! That the one in 2003 (was it really 2003? Well, the big one a few years ago…) was even stronger, a direct hit, …well,… that doesn’t matter, if only there is a scary story available.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    @12. Charlie Young Says:

    The MSM picks up on this and blows up the satellite communication and power grid disruption,

    See :

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/8212939/huge-solar-flare-jams-radio-satellite-signals

    For an example of how they’re reporting this. From the Aussie MSN site.

    See also :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/02/15/sunspot-1158-aint-done-yet/#comment-359301

    My comment #24 on the last solar flare thread from last night, my timezone.

    I guess its safe to say the worries some had year or so ago that we were going to go into a prolonged solar minima or even something like another Maunder Minimum have proved themselves unfounded anyhow! ;-)

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great clip. Thanks BA. :-)

    What is the banana shaped dark region at the “bottom” (south polar – high latititude region?) of the Sun there?

    @6. miss k : Full moon tonight, that won’t help viewing

    But that won’t be a problem, the Sun will have already set then any – Wait, you meant for the aurora didn’t you? ;-)

    (& NO folks, do NOT *ever* stare at the Sun. Projection screen method or solar filters used with great caution only.)

    @4.J. Major :

    I’d love to see some auroral lights here but I think the Texas school board has decided they don’t exist.

    But remember :

    “Eppur si muove.” (And yet it does move.)

    Apocryphally muttered by Galileo Galilei after recanting his belief in the Copernican theory under threat of torture.
    – Page 334, Ben Bova, ‘The Story of Light’, Sourcebooks Inc., 2001.

    And look for them anyhow! :-)

  17. Chief

    I’m sure it is a trick of perspective but the flash and the following ejection looks like it is moving at warp speed in comparison to the suns apparent diameter and distance we seem to be above the sun. Does anyone have some figures on the true speed of the ejected plasma.

  18. @18. MTU: I’ve heard that Galileo’s supposed insubordinant comment was never confirmed, and early writings about him and the trial do not contain the line. But it’s fun to think of the old fella grumbling it through his beard at the church officials.

    I’ve got a video up on YouTube from SDO’s AIA 335 channel showing the whole lineup of M- and X-class flares. Bam bam bam! Like we’re in a shooting gallery. (And we’re the target!)

  19. Joseph G

    It looks like something happens to the left of the flare a second before it “blows,” and then there’s another small flash to the left of the flare afterward. Are these things all connected, or just coincidental?
    I recall reading somewhere that every sunspot has a “twin” somewhere where the magnetic field lines intersect the photosphere on the other side of the “loop” – is that what we’re seeing?

  20. doug baker

    I don’t have the background to fully understand the warnings from noaa
    but here you go.
    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SWN/index.html
    http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html

    Space Weather Message Code: WARK04
    Serial Number: 1694
    Issue Time: 2011 Feb 18 0102 UTC

    WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 4 expected
    Valid From: 2011 Feb 18 0140 UTC
    Valid To: 2011 Feb 18 1600 UTC
    Warning Condition: Onset

  21. Monkey

    I echo #18 (Chief) and #21 (Joseph G); further that halo looks too massive to be from the flare, or is that just perspective from where this is taken?

    If we had a 24 hour feed of the sun …nothing more….just our little sun doing its little things…id watch it. Leave it on. It would replace my forever turned off television. Sun TV. That. Would. Be. Simply. Moving.

  22. Roy Lofquist

    @18 MTU,

    That dark banana shaped thing is the spot from which it erupted. Which brings up perennial question: Why are sunspots dark? They are essentially holes in the outer crust. If the fusion theory is correct then shouldn’t it be hotter closer to the core?

  23. Richie

    In the middle of the “Sunburn” chapter of Death From the Skies, hop online and see this…

    Thanks Phil, for your tireless work putting my mind at ease.

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    20. J. Major :

    @18. MTU: I’ve heard that Galileo’s supposed insubordinant comment was never confirmed, and early writings about him and the trial do not contain the line. But it’s fun to think of the old fella grumbling it through his beard at the church officials.

    Hence the “apocryphally” there – &, yes, that’s my understanding too. Galileo may well have said it in private afterwards, unlikely he said it at the time given the probable consequences.

    I’ve got a video up on YouTube from SDO’s AIA 335 channel showing the whole lineup of M- and X-class flares. Bam bam bam! Like we’re in a shooting gallery. (And we’re the target!)

    Great videoclip. Like lightning on the solar surface. Thanks. :-)

    @24. Roy Lofquist : Thanks. :-)

    Which brings up perennial question: Why are sunspots dark?

    My understanding in a word : Contrast.

    Take a sunspot off our Sun and it would be red-hot at 3,000 degrees Celsius.

    Yet against that backdrop, they’re dark & cool.

    They are essentially holes in the outer crust. If the fusion theory is correct then shouldn’t it be hotter closer to the core?

    I do believe that’s right – and its actually *millions* of degrees hotter at our Suns’ core. Although I think they say “photosphere” rather than “crust.”

  25. Messier Tidy Upper

    Wikipages :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunspot

    in case they’re of any help to folks.

    Plus this :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Sf_UIQYc20&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    As a pre-emptive strike for those wondering about the solar impact on global warming. 8)

  26. LittleJim

    Compared to the 2003 flare, it doesn’t look like much at all;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X9MWx7J9cg#t=14s

  27. Doug

    WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

  28. gss_000

    @17. Messier Tidy Upper

    That first sentence in the ninemsm is a tip off that its based of the AFP report.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110217/sc_afp/usastronomytelecomnasachina_20110217124540

    Articles sourcing this were more feverish in tone than many US sources, which stated like the BA while these events can cause problems, and this is one of the strongest solar storms in years, it’s not that bad mainly becuase solar activity has been so weak since 2006.

  29. 2:50 AM, Feb. 19th 54.5 deg. north

    I was just outside looking for northern lights. Very bright moon, but no sign of any aurora activity.

    Oh well, the next few years should be a good show, it is only going to get better.

    I have a real time video of the aftermath of the last X-17 explosion here…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ji5YeSjzFfY

    Cheers. Keep looking up!

  30. reidh

    Speaking of energy, could this raise the temperature of the atmosphere of earth?
    “ionizing energy”
    the average energy lost by ionizing radiation in producing an ion pair in a gas. (For air, ionizing energy is approximately 33 V.)

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