On October 2, the Sun let loose with a bright flash of radiation — a solar flare — propelling a cloud of particles probably weighing a trillion tons or so out into space at a million miles per hour.
Solar flares and associated plasma belches likes this (the latter are known more properly as coronal mass ejections) are relatively common during the peak of the ~11-year solar cycle — which is occurring right now. The flare was moderate in magnitude (M7.3 class).
While the flare itself may not have been particularly noteworthy, the high-resolution image of the solar plasma being flung out into space is undeniably spectacular. It was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
In geosynchronous orbit around Earth, SDO has a continuous view of the sun. (That’s SDO in the thumbnail image above. Click it for an enlarged view.)
You may have heard about the massive flares and explosions that erupted from the sun this week. These photos show what happened when the blasts hit Earth: spectacular displays of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.
I’ve been traveling in Norway this week, and when I heard about the solar activity and the aurora forecast I borrowed a tripod from a friend here in Tromsø and raced out the door with my wife to take some photos. The images I captured show what happens when Earth’s magnetic field is bombarded by material coming from the Sun.
The photograph above shows the aurora borealis glimmering above Tromsø’s arresting Arctic Cathedral on Friday, September 12, 2014. Light from the city and the moon made the sky a bit bright, which helped to dim some of the detail in the aurora. Moreover, the sky was obscured by some cloudiness — and the clouds were light up by the streetlights below, which explains their somewhat strange coloring.
Following two very powerful explosions of radiation yesterday, the sun this morning let loose with yet another X-class solar flare. It’s the intensely bright spot in the image above (with the Earth shown in the inset at bottom left to provide scale).
Scientists say more may be coming in the days ahead — just as the region of the sun that’s all hot and bothered rotates into a more Earth-directed position.
Solar flares occur when twisted magnetic fields suddenly release gargantuan amounts of energy, producing an explosion of radiation. X-class flares are the strongest of all, and they are capable of producing radio blackouts on Earth.
The Sun is still very much alive and kicking: It emitted two extremely powerful bursts of radiation today — a pair of X-class solar flares within about an hour of each other. You can see both of them in this video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Laboratory.
The X-class designation is reserved for the most powerful of solar flares.
Here is another view showing the entire Sun.
And here’s a really cool still image, also from the SDO spacecraft: Read More
NASA posted this video today of the Sun, and I just had to share it. After watching it, I’m thinking the Sun needs to chill a bit.
Okay, on second thought, maybe that’s a bad idea…
In all seriousness, this video of the Sun going all spasmodic consists of images taken in extreme ultraviolet light by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory. It shows an active region — an area where the sun’s magnetic field is particularly strong — spurting and erupting over the course of two and a half days, starting in April 19. Active regions frequently produce solar flares and coronal mass ejections. (For a closeup still image of the frantic activity, click on the thumbnail at right.)
As NASA puts it, “All of the activity near this region was caused by intense magnetic forces in a powerful struggling with each other.”
I would have said “struggle,” but I don’t know. Maybe “struggling” conveys the freneticism even better.
The massive flare that erupted from the sun on Tuesday could bring beautiful displays of the Northern Lights as far south as Colorado late on Thursday night and early Friday morning.
Click on the screenshot above to watch a movie of the solar flare captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
It was associated with a huge eruption of material called a coronal mass ejection. Now, that material is racing toward Earth and is expected to trigger a strong geomagnetic storm — a disturbance to Earth’s protective magnetic bubble called the magnetosphere. It’s that kind of disturbance that triggers the Northern Lights.
The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute predicts that auroral activity will be high on Thursday:
Weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Halifax.
The Denver Post is reporting that displays of the aurora could even reach where I live near Boulder, Colorado. “This is very rare, especially for as far south as Denver and Boulder,” Joe Kunches, a forecaster with the federal Space Weather Prediction Center, told the Post.
There are no guarantees, of course. Clouds could obscure the view, city lights could wash it out, the solar material could arrive earlier or later than forecast, affecting visibility, etc. For the latest updates on what might happen, check the Space Weather Prediction Center here.
The human visual system is an incredible example of natural engineering that far surpasses the very best cameras and lenses. To offer one example, on a bright day with extremely contrasty light, it can discern fine details in both the dark shadows and bright highlights — details that are all but lost in to a camera.
Even so, what we can see is extremely limited compared to what’s actually out there — a fact that is dramatically illustrated by the kaleidoscopic view of the sun above. It’s a frame from a movie put together by NASA to illustrate the abilities of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, an orbiting satellite that continuously monitors the sun.
SDO’s instruments are sensitive to wavelengths of light that are invisible to us. In the image, above (and the full video below), each pie-shaped slice represents a view of the sun in a particular wavelength. Viewing the sun in different wavelengths allows scientists to discern different kinds of features on its surface and in its atmosphere, called the corona.
Here’s the full video: Read More
Click on the screenshot of the video above to watch intense radiation explode in a solar flare recorded yesterday by a NASA spacecraft.
As solar flares go, this one was medium in size — and not anything to worry about. No significant disruptions to systems here on Earth are expected from the radiation blasted out into space by the M1.5 class flare, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center. (You can get the latest SWPC forecast here.)
All the same, watching an explosion like this unfold in closeup can be a humbling experience, especially when you realize that the area from which the flare erupted is probably bigger than our whole planet.
The video, from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, starts with a wide view of the sun. As it progresses, it zooms in to a super-closeup, along the way showing the flare in different wavelengths of light that highlight various characteristics of the sun and its magnetic field. Read More
The sun really seems to be ramping up its activity. At 9:45 EDT on Tuesday night, it unleashed its fourth flare in as many days. You can see it toward the left side of the sun in the image above from the Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
The false coloring in this picture is due to the wavelengths of light that the instrument on SDO viewed the sun with. These wavelengths are particularly good at revealing flaring activity.
Characterized as an X1.2 flare, it was not nearly as powerful as the one late Monday night. Nonetheless, X-class flares are the strongest, unleashing the energy of millions of hydrogen bombs almost all at once.
Last night the sun unleashed its latest tirade: the third flare in as many days, and the most powerful one in 2013 so far.
Exploding from the Sun’s surface with energy equivalent to millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs, the flare spewed intense radiation into space. It peaked last night at 9:11 p.m. EDT.
It was not directed toward Earth, but NASA says solar material from all three of the recent flares will pass by the Spitzer Space Telescope and could give a “glancing blow” to the STEREO-B and Epoxi spacecraft. All these spacecraft can be put into a protective safe mode.
The latest eruption was characterized as an X3.2-class flare. The X-class category is the most powerful, and each step up in number indicates a doubling of energy. So this flare was more than twice as powerful as Sunday’s X1.7-class flare.
The panel of images above, from NASA’s Earth-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, shows the massive eruption of energy in four different wavelengths. Read More