We are experiencing Solar Activity on a scale we haven’t seen in decades. The Sun has come to life and is throwing a fit.
RADIATION STORM IN PROGRESS: Solar protons accelerated by this morning’s M9-class solar flare are streaming past Earth. On the NOAA scale of radiation storms, this one ranks S3, which means it could, e.g., cause isolated reboots of computers on board Earth-orbiting satellites and interfere with polar radio communications. An example of satellite effects: The “snow” in this SOHO coronagraph movie is caused by protons hitting the observatory’s on board camera.
ALMOST-X FLARE AND CME (UPDATED): This morning, Jan. 23rd around 0359 UT, big sunspot 1402 erupted, producing a long-duration M9-class solar flare. The explosion’s M9-ranking puts it on the threshold of being an X-flare, the most powerful kind. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the flare’s extreme ultraviolet flash:
“This was amazing,” he says. “It was a wonderful experience to see these stunning auroras.”
NOAA forecasters estimate a 10% – 25% chance of continued geomagnetic storms tonight as effects from the CME impact subside. The odds will increase again on Jan. 24-25 as a new CME (from today’s M9-clare) approaches Earth. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.
We could experience blackouts, loss of satellite signals, even loss of television (cable) systems.
A powerful solar eruption is expected to blast a stream of charged particles toward Earth tomorrow (Jan. 24), as the strongest radiation storm since 2005 rages on the sun.
Early this morning (0359 GMT Jan. 23, which corresponds to late Sunday, Jan. 22 at 10:59 p.m. EST), NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught an extreme ultraviolet flash from a huge eruption on the sun, according to the sky watching website Spaceweather.com.
According to NOAA, this is the strongest solar radiation storm since May 2005, and as a precaution, polar flights on Earth are expected to be re-routed within the next few hours, Kathy Sullivan, deputy administrator of NOAA, said today at the 92nd annual American Meteorological Society meeting in New Orleans, La.
The solar flare spewed from sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has become increasingly active lately. Several NASA satellites, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and the Stereo spacecraft observed the massive sun storm.
A barrage of charged particles triggered by this morning’s solar flare is expected to hit Earth tomorrow at around 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT), according to experts at the Space Weather Prediction Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Scientists call these electromagnetic bursts “coronal mass ejections” (CMEs), and they are closely studied because they can produce potentially harmful geomagnetic storms when the charged particles rain down Earth’s magnetic field lines.
In addition to generating stronger than normal displays of Earth’s auroras (also known as the northern and southern lights), geomagnetic storms aimed directly at our planet can also disrupt satellites in orbit, cause widespread communications interference and damage other electronic infrastructures.
“There is little doubt that the cloud is heading in the general direction of Earth,” Spaceweather.com announced in an alert. “A preliminary inspection of SOHO/STEREO imagery suggests that the CME will deliver a strong glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24-25 as it sails mostly north of our planet.”
Sunday’s solar flare was rated an M9-class eruption, which placed it just on the verge of being an X-class flare, the most powerful type of solar storm. M-class sun storms are powerful but mid-range, while C-class flares are weaker.
NASA routinely monitors space weather conditions to determine any potential hazards to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Based on the agency’s assessment, the six spaceflyers currently living and working on the orbiting outpost are not in any danger, said NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.
“The flight surgeons have reviewed the space weather forecasts for the flare and determined that there are no expected adverse effects or actions required to protect the on-orbit crew,” Humphries told SPACE.com in an email.
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The year is 2012 and perhaps the Disaster Gods don’t wish to wait until December 21st.