[UPDATE: March 10, 2012; see below] Late yesterday morning, two massive X-class solare flares erupted form our sun’s surface. These are amongst the most powerful class of ‘solar storm’. One of these flares ranked an X 5.4 which makes it the most powerful flare so far this year, and one of the most powerful in the past five years.
Solar cycle 24 seems to be gearing up with more dynamic activity ahead.
“Space weather has gotten very interesting over the last 24 hours. This was quite the Super Tuesday — you bet.” said Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), n a statement to reporters (March 7)
The eruptions triggered a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) as is typical following such large flares. These CMEs — comprised of high-energy plasma waves — “supercharge” the solar wind, making space weather for Earth — a possible geomagnetic storm — more dangerous and potentially disruptive to both communication satellites in space and ground based power grids.
The current estimate for when the leading edge — the wave front — of the CME will reach Earth early March 8 EST.
The effects of the solar storm could last as long as 24 hours.
See the NOAA space weather forecast for the CME triggered by the March 7, X 5.4 Solar Flare (no audio):
UPDATE: March 10, 2012 – Active Region (AR) 1429 — the sunspot region responsible for the two X-class solar flares and a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) on March 7, remains active, with a less potent flare measuring M 6.3 – occurring late evening (EST) on March 8 — and triggering another Earth-directed CME in its wake. According to Dr. Alex Young of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:
“The flare produced a temporary radio blackout as well as a possible Earth directed CME. We will have to wait and see. The sunspot group still shows potential for more activity as the region sits near the central meridian of the Sun. Facing directly at Earth this is a prime location to produce more geo-effective solar activity.” [quoted from the Universe Today article Active Region Is Still Active!]
The CME that occurred on March 7 hit Earth with a much softer impact than was expected (apparently due to a non-alignment of magnetic fields). However, spectacular Auroras resulting from the initial CME are still being seen and astrophysicists expect more dynamic, geomagnetic activity in the coming days as a result of this recent CME from AR 1429.
For more Solar Dynamics Observatory images, visit the SDO data site.
For more on this space news item, visit the Space.com article: Huge Solar Flare’s Magnetic Storm May Disrupt Satellites, Power Grids by Denise Chow
Top Photo: SDO/GSFC/NASA
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.