[Note to reader: the active link to the solar flare video has been restored] This Spring has been pretty exciting for solar activity…Following the ending of the longest-running solar minimum (of sun spots) in more than a century, our sun’s activity (solar cycle 24) has picked up considerably over the course of the month of May, culminating in an M-2 class (medium size) solar flare and “spectacular” mass coronal ejection (MCE) on June 7.
Solar flares sporadically erupt from the surface of the sun, often following the growth of sun spot pairs in that area. A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) occurs as the sun’s atmosphere (its corona) is violently and rapidly “cast off” — shooting a massive wave of solar particles and plasma millions of miles into space. Large solar flares can trigger a CME.
[correction, June 13] While it takes light from the sun just over 8 minutes to reach Earth, particles from a CME (carried on the “solar wind”), traveling slower than light, would take an estimated 45
minutes hours to reach Earth. (note: the speed of light was used to calculate the timing of CME solar particles reaching the Earth, this was an error, as said particles do not travel at the speed of light, but the equivalent of between 1 and 2 million mph, or, between 400 and 800 km/sec)
If you’re into this, you’ll probably also love –>> Dude, Surfs Up on the Sun – Classic ‘Surfer’ Waves Seen in Solar Atmosphere [VIDEO]
For a medium-sized solar event, its effect was pretty impressive, and massive, as a huge explosion of solar particles erupted from the surface of the sun and fell back “looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface” according to the NASA site that tracks solar dynamics. That’s pretty impressive for just a “medium-sized” flare.
The video (below) of the flare and CME were recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in Feb. of 2010. SDO’s camera recorded the event in extreme, ultra-violet light — revealing the large eruption to be composed of an extremely “cool gas” (relative to the sun’s coronal temperature, that is).
There are five, sun-monitoring probes (including STEREO, a pair of solar probes, and the HINODE probe, a joint mission by NASA and JAXA, Japan’s space agency) currently in operation. All of the Heliophysics System Observatory missions captured the event.
Here’s a look (.gif animation) at the solar corona taken by the SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) probe, and showing bright plasma and high-energy particles roaring from the Sun during the CME:
More about Sun spot cycle 24:
Although solar cycle 24 is picking up in terms of activity, it is still predicted that the next solar maximum (i.e., maximum number of sun spots), peaking in 2013, will be rather low by historical standards.
According to the Marshall Space Flight Center:
“The current prediction for Sunspot Cycle 24 gives a smoothed sunspot number maximum of about 69 in June of 2013. We are currently over two and a half years into Cycle 24. Three consecutive months with average daily sunspot numbers above 40 has raised the predicted maximum above the 64.2 for the Cycle 14 maximum in 1907. The predicted size would make this the smallest sunspot cycle in over 100 years.”
Here’s an chart of the predicted number of sun spots for cycle 24:
Note (from the MSFC website): These predictions are for “smoothed” International Sunspot Numbers. The smoothing is usually over time periods of about a year or more so both the daily and the monthly values for the International Sunspot Number should fluctuate about our predicted numbers. The dotted lines on the prediction plots indicate the expected range of the monthly sunspot numbers. Also note that the “Boulder” numbers reported daily at www.spaceweather.com are typically about 35% higher than the International sunspot number.
Want more solar news? Check out my next article on “surfer waves” recently discovered in the sun’s corona.