Solar eruption could deliver a ‘glancing blow’ to Earth TODAY

Solar eruption could deliver a ‘glancing blow’ to Earth TODAY – sparking auroras and geomagnetic storms

  • Solar eruption from the sun at weekend could deliver a ‘glancing blow’ to Earth
  • Experts have warned there is a chance it could spark minor geomagnetic storms
  • Our star is moving into a particularly active period of its 11-year cycle of activity
  • Last month the sun unleashed its most powerful solar flare for around five years

A solar eruption from the sun at the weekend could deliver a ‘glancing blow’ to Earth and spark minor geomagnetic storms, scientists have warned.

Our star has been experiencing heightened activity for some months and last month unleashed its most powerful solar flare seen in five years.

The sun appears to be moving into a particularly active period of its 11-year cycle of activity, which began in 2019 and is expected to peak in 2025.

Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are powerful bursts of energy that can direct dangerous blasts towards the Earth.

Last month’s flare – the strongest in this solar cycle – did not do any damage to Earth, nor is the latest one expected to affect our satellites and the power grid even if it does hit.

A solar eruption from the sun may deliver a 'glancing blow' to Earth and spark minor geomagnetic storms, scientists have warned.  Pictured is an image taken by the Solar Orbiter probe

A solar eruption from the sun may deliver a ‘glancing blow’ to Earth and spark minor geomagnetic storms, scientists have warned. Pictured is an image taken by the Solar Orbiter probe

WHAT ARE CORONAL MASS EJECTIONS?

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun.

These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind.

These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth.

They tend to be much slower than solar flares, as they move a greater amount of matter.

CMEs can be triggered when a storm on the surface of the sun causes a whirlwind to form at the base of plasma loops that project from the surface.

These loops are called prominences and when they become unstable they can break, releasing the CME into space.

But scientists are concerned that the sun’s increased activity could lead to potentially dangerous solar weather which may damage electrical grids, knock out satellites, and harm astronauts and space equipment on the International Space Station.

Experts at SpaceWeather.com said the latest CME, which is slightly different to a solar flare, erupted from the sun on Saturday (May 7).

They added that analysts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) believed it ‘might deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field’ today (May 10).

‘This is a low confidence forecast. Minor geomagnetic storms are possible if/when the CME arrives,’ the SpaceWeather.com experts said.

A minor storm can confuse migrating animals that rely on the Earth’s magnetic field for a sense of direction.

Solar eruptions, or prominences, are large structures of tangled magnetic field lines that keep dense concentrations of solar plasma suspended above the sun’s surface, sometimes taking the form of arching loops.

They are often associated with CMEs, which if directed towards Earth, can wreak havoc with our technology.

CMEs only impact to Earth when they’re aimed in our planet’s direction.

They tend to be much slower than solar flares, as they move a greater amount of matter.

CMEs can be triggered when a storm on the surface of the sun causes a whirlwind to form at the base of plasma loops that project from the surface.

These loops are called prominences and when they become unstable they can break, releasing the CME into space.

Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency mission to explore the Sun and the effect our host star has on the solar system

Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency mission to explore the Sun and the effect our host star has on the solar system

Flares and CMEs have different effects at Earth as well. The energy from a flare can disrupt the area of ​​the atmosphere through which radio waves travel, which can lead to temporary blackouts in navigation and communications signals.

On the other hand, CMEs have the power to jog Earth’s magnetic fields, creating currents that drive particles down toward Earth’s poles.

When these react with oxygen and nitrogen, they help create the aurora, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights.

Additionally, the magnetic changes can affect a variety of human technologies, causing GPS coordinates to stray by a few yards and overloading electricity grids when power companies are not prepared.

There hasn’t been an extreme CME or solar flare in the modern world – the last was the Carrington Event in 1859 – creating a geomagnetic storm with an aurora appearing globally, as well as fires at telegraph stations.

SOLAR STORMS PRESENT A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES

solar stormsor solar activity, can be divided into four main components that can have impacts on Earth:

  • Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons that travel out directly from the flare site. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth.
  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth.
  • High-speed solar wind streams: These come from coronal holes on the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds impact Earth.
  • Solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through solar wind, solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect Earth will have an impact.

While these may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger of these phenomena because of the relatively low orbit of manned missions.

However, they do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.

This photo shows the sun's coronal holes in an x-ray image.  The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

The damage caused by solar storms

Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.

The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.

When Coronal Mass Ejections strike Earth they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.

They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large influx of energy could flow into high voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut off businesses and homes around the world.

Source: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather

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