HD footage of last night's flare

By Phil Plait | March 7, 2012 5:49 pm

Over at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, video producer Scott Wiessinger put together a short but exquisite video of the Sun’s big flare last night — the second most powerful of this cycle, beaten out only by last year’s X6.9 event in August.

The numbers on the side are wavelengths — in this case, 171 and 131 Angstroms, way out in the ultraviolet where violent magnetic events are more easily seen.

This flare was very powerful, and blasted out a wave of particles that’s expected to hit Earth sometime tonight after midnight EST (the exact time is difficult to determine). We’ll be OK down here on Earth, but there may be sporadic communication issues, power outages (maybe), and aurorae. If you’re on Google+, Camilla Corona SDO is the person to follow. She has updates and great links!

Credit: NASA/SDO/Helioviewer.org

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff
MORE ABOUT: solar flare, Sun

Comments (18)

  1. Tom

    Was that playback in real-time or sped up? Watching the lines of flux(?) waving back-and-forth at that massive a scale, if it was real-time it would be that much more impressive.

  2. KC

    This flare is getting over-hyped in the media. An X-5 is pretty strong but not unusual. Last year’s X6.9 Phil mentions above wasn’t that big of a deal either.

  3. D. Cadman

    agreed, no biggy, been reading up on the Carrington Event of 1859, a once in 500 year event; now that was a biggy by any yardstick ;)
    oh, btw, again, we have overcast with rain here in Southern Ontario, Canada, drats!!!

  4. Marc

    I am currently pretty far south. Would the solar storm affect this area at all? I wish I was back home now :(

  5. @ ^ Marc : But how far south is “pretty south” please? Mexico latitude? New Zealand – south part of the south island – latitude or Antartica peninsula south? ;-)

    I’m at 35 degrees south – Adelaide South Australia, we’ve been known to have the very occassional aurora visible from here although I’ve never personally witnessed one. I have spoken to people who have seen aurorae from here though.

    @ 2. KC – March 7th, 2012 at 8:27 pm :

    ,This flare is getting over-hyped in the media. An X-5 is pretty strong but not unusual. Last year’s X6.9 Phil mentions above wasn’t that big of a deal either.

    Well, it *is* apparently the biggest solar storm for five years according to Aussie ABC online news (article linked to my name here) and news 24 TV. I think that’ s noteworthy and relatively rare. Nowhere near as bad as the 1859 Carrington event sure – but then we wouldn’t want it to be would we! ;-)

    @1. Tom asked : “Was that playback in real-time or sped up?”

    The Youtube info box for this clip notes :

    Since SDO captures images every 12 seconds, it has been able to map the full evolution of these waves and confirm that they can travel across the full breadth of the sun. The waves move at over a million miles per hour, zipping from one side of the sun to the other in about an hour.

    I presume that means this animation is a time lapse made of separate images put together with gaps of a dozen seconds between each but I could, of course, be mistaken. If not, the 80 seconds of video shown here represents 960 seconds or sixteen minutes of solar time spanned – assuming my maths is correct.

  6. Mike Torr

    @5 Well, if each frame of video were 12 seconds, and assuming 30fps, I make it 6 minutes for each second of video.

    30 x 12 = 360 seconds

    Of course, the frame rate may not be 30fps: I’m not sure how to determine that with YT videos. It could be 15, 25 or even 12fps for example.

  7. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:
    . . . 171 and 131 Angstroms . . .

    Which, for readers from the 21st century, is 17.1 and 13.1 nanometres respectively.

    That’s pretty far into the UV. In the context of biochemistry, I have seen a wavelength of 150 nm described as “far UV”.

  8. Scott

    Ok, I am not a scientist, or an astronomer, so I may be off on this. But when the flare goes off, am I seeing shock waves move across the surface of the sun like I would when a bomb goes off?

  9. @8, Scott. Pretty much, though the forces aren’t explosive, but magnetic in nature. Either way, it can still send mechanical force through the sun, a starquake, if you like.
    Astronomers use those to actually map the internal structure of the sun, just as geologists use earthquakes to map the inner Earth.

  10. Headline on faux news this morning: “Gigantic solar storm set to pound earth”.

    Hyperbole much?

  11. MicroMan

    Someone I know keeps claiming that solar flares affect our local weather system and so when there is a solar flare we should expect warm weather.

    I think this is patently ridiculous. Of course the flare will affect our local space weather and cause other issues with our satellites and power grid, but to say that it will we will have “warm weather for the next couple days” is just ill-informed.

    Can someone please point me to any resources so that I can help to educate this person. Thanks in advance!

  12. Chris A.

    I’m curious about whether the “standing waves” (parallel bright lines) which appear briefly near the flare center (especially obvious at 0:23 and 0:38) are real or imaging artifacts. My guess is that they are some sort of internal reflection(s) in the optics.

  13. Wow – that was so bright that there was bleeding in the CCD array.

    @Chris#12: That’s the CCD bleeding; when the ‘well capacity’ of a pixel is exceeded, electrons flow into the adjacent pixels on a particular line.

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. drksky :

    Headline on faux news this morning: “Gigantic solar storm set to pound earth”. Hyperbole much?

    Not that much actually and not inaccurate even though apparently it has been somewhat of a fizzer. Fox news hasn’t been alone in covering this solar storm in prominent and dramatic ways and headlines either.

    Now if the Fox news report went on to say Obama was to blame for causing it then I’d agree you might have a case! ;-)

    @6. Mike Torr : Thanks. :-)

    30fps = 30 frames per second then I presume?

    @11. MicroMan :

    Someone I know keeps claiming that solar flares affect our local weather system and so when there is a solar flare we should expect warm weather. I think this is patently ridiculous.

    Yeesh! Yeah, I agree – does this same person think sunspots make the weather colder by any chance? :roll:

    Of course the flare will affect our local space weather and cause other issues with our satellites and power grid, but to say that it will we will have “warm weather for the next couple days” is just ill-informed. Can someone please point me to any resources so that I can help to educate this person. Thanks in advance!

    Well, there’s wikipedia, this blog, plenty of books and magazines on the topic of our Sun and its effects on our lives – James Kaler has written one good one – plus someone whose name is something like Phil Dish or bowl whohas achapteronsolarflares inhis latest book – & a few other blogs and then there’s alsways the option of doing an experiment and recording daily temperatures and when the solar flares happen and seeing if they always corelate or refute that flares =warmer weather hypothesis. Of course the latter would take time to conduct to any statistically reliable level although you can always go back over old records.

    Hope that helps.

  15. James Kaler [Stars website author & expert] has written a good book with I think some relevant info on solar flares

    Titled Heavens Touch – see : http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8991.html

    Good post on Starts witha Bang blog solar storms and effects ~wise here :

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/02/the_facts_on_solar_storms.php

    Although it doesn’t mention weather so much but still good on the topic of solar storm effects.

    Google search comes up with these :

    https://www.google.com/search?q=Sun+books+about+solar+flares+and+weather&hl=en&gbv=2&source=lnms&ei=yolZT5eQOYaQiAeH7PjBDQ&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&cd=1&ved=0CC4Q_AUoAA&biw=1600&bih=702#hl=en&gbv=2&sclient=psy-ab&q=solar+flares+and+weather+on+earth&oq=solar+flares+and+weather&aq=1&aqi=g2g-b1&aql=&gs_sm=1&gs_upl=26723l26723l0l29607l1l1l0l0l0l0l413l413l4-1l1l0&gs_l=serp.1.1.0l2j0i8.26723l26723l0l29607l1l1l0l0l0l0l413l413l4-1l1l0&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=c6b642ca21ba5b4e&biw=1600&bih=702

    If that hasn’t been tried already.

    Link to my name about a good book covering our Sun in easily readable detail called The Sun: A biography by David Whitehouse.

    Hope at least some of this helps. :-)

  16. MicroMan

    @Messier Tidy Upper Wow! Thanks for taking the time to provide so much information and detailed links. Really appreciate it. The “Facts on Solar Storms” blog post was a great read. Thanks again! Very helpful!

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ MicroMan : No worries, glad you enjoyed ‘em. :-)

  18. David

    So was the recent uptick over the past week of 80+ degree weather a result of the flare? The weather is getting back to normal for this time of year and the unseasonally long uptick in temp was brief and timed directly in the wake of the flare. Not an astronomer or scientist, just curious. Seems an awful lot like they can be directly related, to us average cavemen at least. Even if sunse spots don’t make it colder . . . that’s just silly.

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