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
If you visit this blog with any regularity, you might have guessed that I’m fascinated — some might even say obsessed — with images of the sun. The mind-blowing image above should show why.
Captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, it shows a fountain of plasma being propelled 120,000 miles above the sun’s surface by a solar flare. Here are further details from the SDO Facebook page: Read More
On Thursday, the sun let loose a massive explosion of billions of tons of solar particles in what scientists call a coronal mass ejection, or CME. You can see a video and a stunning image of the event in my post about it from yesterday.
Today, I found an incredible scientific visualization of a CME, what it does to our poor, unprotected planetary neighbor, Venus, and how Earth’s self-generated magnetic bubble shields us from the mayhem that would otherwise ensue. The image at the top of this post is a screenshot from the visualization. Click on it and you’ll be taken to a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center web page where you can choose which format with which to view the video. It’s narrated, and everything is clearly explained.
The visualization doesn’t stop with the coronal mass ejection sweeping past Earth harmlessly: Read More
If recent posts here at ImaGeo are any indication, I must be obsessed with the sun. Just yesterday, I posted an incredible image of the solar surface. And here I am, at it once again.
But I didn’t tell the sun to let loose billions of tons solar particles into space today, in what scientists call a coronal mass ejection, or CME.
(Update 4/12: Now I’m at it again. See my post today about how the Earth protects itself from these gargantuan solar explosions.)
If you haven’t done it already, click on the image above for an animation of images sent back to Earth by the Solar Heliospheric Observatory showing the CME exploding from the sun’s surface and racing out into space. Mars is visible in the image. I’m a little unclear whether the animation actually shows the particles reaching all the way to the Red Planet. NASA’s news item on the event didn’t say. (Mars could behind the sun, giving the impression that it was blasted by the solar eruption when it might not have been.)
Evidently, the eruption of particles did reach us. From NASA: Read More