Wednesday, 8 June 2011

'Dramatic' solar flare could disrupt Earth communications



by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 7, 2011
An unusual solar flare observed by a NASA space observatory on Tuesday could cause some disruptions to satellite communications and power on Earth over the next day or so, officials said.

The potent blast from the Sun unleashed a firestorm of radiation on a level not witnessed since 2006, and will likely lead to moderate geomagnetic storm activity by Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Graphic, BBC

"This one was rather dramatic," said Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the NWS's Space Weather Prediction Center, describing the M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare that peaked at 1:41 am Eastern time in the United States, or 0541 GMT.

"We saw the initial flare occurring and it wasn't that big but then the eruption associated with it -- we got energy particle radiation flowing in and we got a big coronal mass injection," he said.

"You can see all the materials blasting up from the Sun so it is quite fantastic to look at."

NASA's solar dynamics observatory, which launched last year and provided the high-definition pictures and video of the event, described it as "visually spectacular," but noted that since the eruption was not pointed directly at Earth, the effects were expected to remain "fairly small."

"The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface," said a NASA statement.

Murtagh said space weather analysts were watching closely to see whether the event would cause any collision of magnetic fields between the Sun and Earth, some 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) apart.

"Part of our job here is to monitor and determine whether it is Earth-directed because essentially that material that is blasting out is gas with magnetic field combined," he told AFP.

"In a day or so from now we are expecting some of that material to impact us here on Earth and create a geomagnetic storm," he said.

"We don't expect it to be any kind of a real severe one but it could be kind of a moderate level storm."

The Space Weather Prediction Center said the event is "expected to cause G1 (minor) to G2 (moderate) levels of geomagnetic storm activity tomorrow, June 8, beginning around 1800 GMT."

Any geomagnetic storm activity will likely be over within 12-24 hours.

"The Solar Radiation Storm includes a significant contribution of high energy protons, the first such occurrence of an event of that type since December 2006," the NWS said.


As many as 12 satellites and spacecraft are monitoring the heliosphere, and one instrument in particular on board NASA's lunar reconnaissance orbiter is measuring radiation and its effects.

"Certainly over the (two-year) lifetime of the mission this is the most significant event," said Harlan Spence, principal investigator for the cosmic ray telescope for the effects of radiation, or CRaTER.

"This is really exciting because ironically when we were developing the mission initially we thought we would be launching closer to a solar maximum when these big solar particle events typically occur," Spence told AFP.

"Instead we launched into a historic solar minimum that took a long, long time to wake up," he said.

"This is interesting and significant because it shows the Sun is returning to its more typical active state."

The resulting geomagnetic storm could cause some disruption in power grids, satellites that operate global positioning systems and other devices, and may lead to some rerouting of flights over the polar regions, Murtagh said.


"Generally it is not going to cause any big problems, it will just have to be managed," he said.

"If you fly from the United States to Asia, flying over the North Pole, there are well over a dozen flights every day," he added.

"During these big radiation storms some of these airlines will reroute the flights away from the polar regions for safety reasons to make sure they can maintain communications.

"People operating satellites would keep an eye on this, too, because geomagnetic storming can interfere with satellites in various ways whether it is the satellite itself or the signal coming down from the receiver."

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights) and aurora australis (Southern Lights) will also likely be visible in the late hours of June 8 or 9, NASA said.

Sun unleashes a 'spectacular' solar storm

Massive blast 'nothing we really have to worry about,' astrophysicist says



The sun unleashed a massive solar storm Tuesday in a dazzling eruption that kicked up a vast cloud of magnetic plasma that appeared to rain back down over half of the sun's entire surface, NASA scientists say.

The solar storm hit its peak at about 2:41 a.m. EDT, but the actual flare extended over a three-hour period, said C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who runs a website called The Sun Today, in a video describing the event.

"The sun produced a quite spectacular prominence eruption that had a solar flare and high-energy particles associated with it, but I've just never seen material released like this before," Young said. "It looks like somebody just kicked a giant clod of dirt into the air and then it fell back down."

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft caught high-definition video of the flare in different wavelengths. The event registered as a Class M-2 solar flare, which is a medium-class sun storm that should not pose a danger to satellites or infrastructure on Earth.

An alert by the NOAA-operated Space Weather Prediction Center stated that the solar flare could create a strong geomagnetic storm on Wednesday from the event's coronal mass ejection (CME), an explosion of charged particles triggered by the flare. Geomagnetic storms can lead to stronger-than-normal displays of Earth's auroras, also known as the northern and southern lights.

"It's nothing we really have to worry about," Young said in his video. "It's just really, really beautiful."

The coronal mass ejection is directed at Earth and moving at about 3.1 million mph, SDO mission scientists said in a statement


"Due to its angle, however, effects on Earth should be fairly small. Nevertheless, it may generate space weather effects here on Earth in a few days," they added.

In the SDO videos, the solar flare erupts from the lower right of the sun and triggers the intense coronal mass ejection, which blows plasma and particles high up into the sun's corona — its outer atmosphere — with some raining back down.

SDO mission scientists said the flare kicked up relatively cool gas and material.

"It is somewhat unique because at many places in the eruption there seems to be even cooler material —at temperatures less than 80,000 Kelvin," SDO scientists explained.

A temperature of 80,000 Kelvin is about 143,540 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun's corona typically has temperatures ranging from 900,000 degrees F to 10.8 million degrees F. It can reach tens of millions of degrees when a solar flare occurs.
The sun is currently going through an active period in it is 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is called solar cycle 24.

Several NASA spacecraft are keeping constant watch on the sun for flares and CMEs, and serve as an early-warning system for major space weather events.


The Sun can be a violent place. That couldn’t have been made any clearer than by a video demonstrating a huge solar explosion which occurred on Tuesday. Now before you start running to your bunker under the belief that the apocalypse is upon us as the result of a huge solar flare, take heart. The ejection caused by the explosion wasn’t facing us. Also, apparently the solar event didn’t even compare to some larger ones in February.

Nevertheless, the solar flare captured in the video is absolutely spectacular, especially when seen in UV light with two different kinds of filters. As you can see in these videos, not only is some of the surface ejected into space as a result of the explosion, some of it returns to crash back into the Sun.

The videos are being provided through Helioviewer.org which is an open-source project, funded byESA and NASA, for the visualization of solar and heliospheric data. It seems the video of the solar flare was so popular on Tuesday that some visitors to Helioviewer.org had long movie waits due to the increase in traffic.

It’s incredible to imagine that the explosion viewed in the video resulted in a billion tons of material being ejected away from the Sun. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that a good solar flare can release the same amount of energy as billions of nuclear bombs exploding. One estimate puts the explosion captured in the video over an area of a million kilometers across.

If you think this solar flare is something to behold chances are we haven’t seen anything yet. The solar cycle, which tracks increases and decreases in solar activity, is beginning to peak. That means there is little doubt that more solar explosions are on the way.


Monster Prominence Erupts from Sun

by NANCY ATKINSON on JUNE 7, 2011

Early this morning (June 7, 2011) an amazingly massive and spectacular event took place on the Sun; a huge prominence eruption, marked by a solar flare and release of energetic particles. Daniel Pendick from the Geeked on Goddard blog described it as a “fountain of plasma that blasts out of the solar surface, spreads outward, and collapses to splat back down.”

“I’ve never seen material released like this before, such a huge amount that falls back down in such a spectacular way,” says Dr. C. Alex Young in the video. “It looks like someone just kicked a giant clod of dirt into the air and it fell back down.” Young added that this event will probably not cause any problems as far as space weather affecting Earth.

This video is courtesy NASA Goddard’sHelioviewer.org with narration by folks from The Sun Today.

Below are some still images of the event from the Solar Dynamics Observatory and (just added at 1755 UTC) a video from SDO showing the event in several different wavelengths.

These images were posted by the Camilla_SDO Twitpic feed.

A huge and spectacular prominence eruption on the Sun, June 7, 2011. Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

This is the peak of the M2.5 class solar flare, which propelled the plasma into space today. Credit: NASA/ Solar Dynamics Observatory, via CamillaSDO on Twitter.

The SDO science teams says: “The Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare with a substantial coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7 that is visually spectacular. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface.”

“SDO observed the flare’s peak at 1:41 AM EST. SDO recorded these images in extreme ultraviolet light and they show a very large explosion of cool gas. It is somewhat unique because at many places in the eruption there seems to be even cooler material — at temperatures less than 80,000K.”

Update: The US National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction center has now warned that the solar flare, one of the largest to occur since December 2006, will likely lead to gemagnetic storm activity tomorrow, Wednesday.

The NWS stated: “A dramatic eruption from an otherwise unimpressive NOAA Region 1226 earlier today is expected to cause G1 (minor) to G2 (moderate) levels of geomagnetic storm activity tomorrow, June 8, beginning around 1800 UTC with the passage of a fast CME. A prompt Solar Radiation Storm reached the S1 (minor) level soon after the impulsive R1 (minor) Radio Blackout at 0641 UTC. The Solar Radiation Storm includes a significant contribution of high energy (>100 MeV) protons, the first such occurrence of an event of that type since December 2006.”