Space / Espace
Back to previous selection / Retour à la sélection précédente

Magnetic Eruption on the Sun Sends New Solar Storm Towards Earth

Printable version / Version imprimable

EIRNS—Early on April 21, the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory spotted a magnetic filament eruption on the surface of the Sun, sending a coronal mass ejection (CME) hurtling toward Earth. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “CMEs travel outward from the Sun at speeds ranging from slower than 250 kilometers per second (km/s) to as fast as near 3000 km/s. The fastest Earth-directed CMEs can reach our planet in as little as 15-18 hours. Slower CMEs can take several days to arrive.”

These eruptions are caused when a solar filament becomes unstable and snaps apart; the filaments are strands of solar material and ionized gasses organized along magnetic field lines, and when viewed against the blackness of space can be seen arcing up from the visible surface of the Sun. They are also called solar prominences. When they snap apart, they can produce solar flares and CMEs, sending billions of tons of material out into space. As one would expect, they dwarf the size of the Earth—a typical solar prominence is about 10 times the width of Earth’s diameter.

The current CME is expected to impact Earth’s atmosphere sometime between April 22 and April 24, and the NOAA has issued a geomagnetic storm watch. It has estimated that it could be in the range of a G3 storm, which is considered strong. Although the CME’s impact could produce a flurry of stunning auroras, it will also cause a temporary disruption in Earth’s magnetosphere, and could cause disruptions in GPS, radio communications, cell phone connectivity and satellite operations.

Of note, outer space is not simply “empty space,” but is filled with plasma and high energy particles; Earth (and the other planets) are essentially swimming in the Sun’s extended atmosphere. The Earth’s magnetosphere protects it from much of this activity, but a high energy CME can temporarily distort the magnetosphere. We can expect to see increasing numbers of these events, since the Sun is moving towards the more active portion of the 11-year solar cycle.

NASA has converted years’ worth of satellite data into audio files, in which you can hear how plasma hits Earth’s atmosphere. Listen here:

( ;; ) [jgw]