National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) solar dynamics observatory detected on Sunday a complex magnetic eruption on the sun. NASA said earth orbiting satellites detected a solar tsunami or a C3-class solar flare (not very large) on August 1 around 0855 UT (3:55 am EST).
The joint NASA/ European Space Agency (ESA) solar and heliospheric observatory, a mission sitting at the L1 point between the Earth and the sun, also spotted a large coronal mass ejection heading in the direction of Earth at a speed of 93 million miles which might hit on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The C3-class solar flare was originated from a cluster of Earth-facing sunspots (called sunspot 1092). C-class solar flares are small (when compared to X and M-class flares) and usually have few noticeable consequences here on Earth besides aurorae.
A solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays.
The amount of energy released is the equivalent of millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding at the same time. The first solar flare recorded in astronomical literature was on September 1, 1859.
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are large clouds of charged particles ejected from the Sun over the course of several hours and can carry up to 10 billion tons (1016 grams) of plasma.
The coronal mass ejections expand away from the Sun at speeds as high as a million miles an hour. A CME can make the 93-million-mile journey to Earth in just three to four days.
"When a coronal mass ejection reaches Earth, it interacts with our planet’s magnetic field, potentially creating a geomagnetic storm. Solar particles stream down the field lines toward Earth’s poles and collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, resulting in spectacular auroral displays," said NASA in a statement. Skywatchers in the northern U.S. and other countries should look toward the north on the evening of August 3 or 4 for the rippling dancing “curtains” of green and red light.
The last solar maximum occurred in 2001 and its recent extreme solar minimum was particularly weak and long lasting. These eruptions are one of the first signs that the Sun is waking up and heading toward another solar maximum expected in the 2013 time frame, NASA said in the statement.
However, NASA says a larger explosion, such as those predicted to happen in 2013, might disrupt communication and power grids.
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