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NASA Space Science

The Sun Unleashes Coronal Mass Ejection At Earth 220

Posted by Soulskill
from the return-fire dept.
astroengine writes "Yesterday morning, at 08:55 UT, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory detected a C3-class flare erupt inside a sunspot cluster. 100,000 kilometers away, deep within the solar atmosphere (the corona), an extended magnetic field filled with cool plasma forming a dark ribbon across the face of the sun (a feature known as a 'filament') erupted at the exact same time. It seems very likely that both eruptions were connected after a powerful shock wave produced by the flare destabilized the filament, causing the eruption. A second solar observatory, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, then spotted a huge coronal mass ejection blast into space, straight in the direction of Earth. Solar physicists have calculated that this magnetic bubble filled with energetic particles should hit Earth on August 3, so look out for some intense aurorae — a solar storm is coming."
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The Sun Unleashes Coronal Mass Ejection At Earth

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  • Astroporn (Score:5, Funny)

    by iceborer (684929) on Monday August 02, 2010 @04:56PM (#33115634)
    It's cosmic bukkake!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:07PM (#33115794)

      You're a jackass.

      I just had to explain to my coworkers, including my female boss, why I laughed hard enough to snort iced tea all down my shirt. Trying to explain an astronomy joke to normals is one thing, but tying it into in a weird, totally NSFW Japanese fetish? She'll be glaring at me suspiciously all month.

      Might as well get started on my resume....

      • Re:Astroporn (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:09PM (#33115842)

        There is this wonderful thing, called lying like a cheap rug, that would have helped you out there.

    • by w0mprat (1317953)
      This is a big solar storm, so it's more like Gokkun.
  • Fine, just don't get it in our hair.
  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Monday August 02, 2010 @04:59PM (#33115680)
    I hope this isn't some hyped up story about something the sun does regularly.
    • by pezpunk (205653) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:05PM (#33115766) Homepage

      actually, i kind of hope it is!

    • by jnaujok (804613) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:13PM (#33115878) Homepage Journal
      Going by the values on Wikipedia and NASA's GOES web site, a C3 CME is a total influx of about 3 micro-watts per square meter. For reference, normal solar insolation is about 360 watts per square meter. So, the answer to your rhetorical statement is, "Yes, this is being massively overhyped, because the sun hasn't done diddly squat over the last five years and someone has to justify paying billions of dollars for solar observing satellites."

      Before anyone gets all pissy... yes, the CME comes in the form of energized protons and pico-wave X-Rays, so they are more destructive to human tissue than normal sunlight. But given that the Earth survived a Y+ level (1000-10,000 times more powerful) in 1859 with no one keeling over dead, I think we're safe.
    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Not sure about you, but ust in case i got some triffid planted. Not sure what name will have Aug 3, but i know how to call Aug 4.

      See? Is fun to overhype normal events. Is somewhat like April 1st, but can be practiced all the year.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jo42 (227475)

      You need to upgrade to a lead foil hat from the usual tin foil noggin protector to stop the cosmic rays from discombobulating your brain cells.

    • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Monday August 02, 2010 @07:00PM (#33117374)

      Here are the classifications, and a C3 means few if any noticeable impact on Earth. It is the X class flares that we need to be concerned about:

      http://www.spaceweather.com/glossary/flareclasses.html [spaceweather.com]

      Scientists classify solar flares according to their x-ray brightness in the wavelength range 1 to 8 Angstroms. There are 3 categories: X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.

      • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Monday August 02, 2010 @07:11PM (#33117500)

        I actually found this far more interesting. Apparently the sunspot that created the intial flare is large enough it can be spotted with the naked eye. This sunspot is huge.

        http://spaceweather.com/ [spaceweather.com]

        Image of the sunspot in question: http://spaceweather.com/swpod2010/02aug10/Oleg-Toumilovitch1_strip.jpg [spaceweather.com]

        SUNSPOT SUNRISE: Sunspot 1092, a key player in yesterday's Earth-directed eruptions, is big enough to see without the aid of a solar telescope. Oleg Toumilovitch "spotted" it on July 31st rising over Blairgowrie, South Africa:

        Photo details: Canon EOS-350D, ISO-800, 1/1600s exposure

        "During the first few minutes of sunrise only a fraction of the sunlight makes it's way to the observer - mostly from the red part of visible spectrum," notes Toumilovitch. "During this time large sunspots can be seen without a special solar filter." Be careful, though! Even when dimmed by clouds and haze, direct sunlight can hurt your eyes. "If you try to take a picture like this," advises Toumilovitch, "look only at the screen of your digital camera, not the optical viewfinder."

    • Well normally the sun does this quite regularly (it has been pretty quiet in recent years), but the Earth is a tiny speck in a great big sphere of space so it usually doesn't come directly at us.

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      The article says it's actually a C-2, not C3. They go in order from C class, the smallest, M class, Medium, and X class, the largest. C and M class go up to 9 or 10, but X class events have been rated up to 28. The numbers are on a logarithmic scale like Earthquakes are. The ones you read about causing Northern Lights as far south as Texas and lighting telegraph paper on fire, sparking wires etc are X class.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by downix (84795)

      The story is not the flare itself, it is the sensory system which spotted it. They've been developing these activity sensors for years, and now it is starting to give results.

      This is the space version of Hurricane tracking technology. While not every tropical wave that comes off of africa becomes another Katrina, we need to watch all of them for the one which does.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MartinSchou (1360093)

        While not every tropical wave that comes off of africa becomes another Katrina, we need to watch all of them for the one which does.

        I realise I'm not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, but I'm fairly certain waves do not become hurricanes ...

  • So, I have to pay by the 3rd right...

    This sequence of events led to a huge magnetic bubble of plasma being blasted into space. As the eruption was on the Earth-facing side of the sun, the CME is heading right for us -- see the SOHO video of the CME. We can expect its arrival on Aug. 3.

  • by pezpunk (205653) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:04PM (#33115754) Homepage

    sooo are you saying i should check out the sweet sunset that evening, or prepare for oblivion, or put on some sunscreen, or what? i beg your pardon, i'm just not sure what the proper reaction is when a huge coronal mass ejection blasts a magnetic bubble filled with energetic particles at me.

    • by Akaihiryuu (786040) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:13PM (#33115880)
      Pretty much, just look at the pretty aurora. Worst case scenario is some satellite communications will be disrupted. The atmosphere provides more than adequate shielding against such things.
    • by boneclinkz (1284458) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:20PM (#33116016)

      sooo are you saying i should check out the sweet sunset that evening, or prepare for oblivion, or put on some sunscreen, or what? i beg your pardon, i'm just not sure what the proper reaction is when a huge coronal mass ejection blasts a magnetic bubble filled with energetic particles at me.

      All organic life in the Northern Hemisphere is disintegrated at the subatomic level, Pacific Ocean boils away, Indian Ocean freezes solid, everybody in Uganda gets superpowers.

      • "everybody in Uganda gets superpowers."
        As usual... :/
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by chiph (523845)

        The moon will also be knocked out of it's orbit, sending the doomed crew of British and American astronauts living at Moonbase Alpha hurtling through space and time, only to suffer horrible deaths at the hands of television executives a scant 48 episodes later.

      • by Minwee (522556)

        All organic life in the Northern Hemisphere is disintegrated at the subatomic level, Pacific Ocean boils away, Indian Ocean freezes solid, everybody in Uganda gets superpowers.

        Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:05PM (#33115770)

    If we can land on this coronal-flare and drill a hole into it. Carefully placing a nuke inside the hole, we can divert it so that both halves will miss the earth and everything will be OK.

    • That's silly. The flare will hit us, so we should prepare on the assumption that the intense magnetic forces will stop the core from spinning. We need some kind of tunneling machine, a lot of nuclear bombs, and perhaps some attractive people to undertake a mission to blow the crap out of the core.

  • Free Aurora Alerts (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:06PM (#33115776)

    If you want a warning when auroras are likely to be occuring without paying Spaceweather for alerts (so you can scurry outside and look), check out the NOAA's SWPC mailing lists [noaa.gov]. Go for the K-Index lists, and sign up for all those that apply for your location.

    To figure out which minimum k-index results in visible aurora from your location, check out this helpful page [berkeley.edu]; just enter in your latitude and longitude, and it'll give you your "magnetic latitude"; match that up with a k-index using the table, and you know which mailing lists to sign up for.

    If your phone does email, you can get the alerts anywhere; if your phone doesn't but your provider has an email-to-sms gateway, you could just forward emails for the same effect. :)

  • Irony (Score:4, Interesting)

    by blair1q (305137) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:08PM (#33115806) Journal

    Wouldn't it be ironic if this solar flare knocks SOHO out of commission?

    • Re:Irony (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:17PM (#33115958) Homepage

      No, Alanis, that would just suck.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by boneclinkz (1284458)

      Wouldn't it be ironic if this solar flare knocks SOHO out of commission?

      Only if it were to blow up a bus carrying the Phoenix Suns, on a Sunday.

    • by jdgeorge (18767)

      Yes, if the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) were knocked out of commission by a exactly the kind of phenomenon it is intended to observe, that would be ironic.

      • by jd (1658)

        Well, not significantly more so than Swift nearly getting blinded by a gamma ray burst, surely. And once something becomes routine, can it really be called ironic any more? (Hey, California considers three strikes ever to be good enough, this is two in the same year!)

  • by sheph (955019)
    So now when the network dies tomorrow it really will be solar flares. So much for my running joke.
  • No counselor. This is an entirely different phenomenon.
  • Having RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

    by CubicleView (910143) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:17PM (#33115952) Journal
    I don't have a clue how common of an event this is supposed to be, but from the tone of the article I think tinfoil will offer sufficient protection from it. My guess would be that the real story is that the birth of this "solar storm" was recorded.
    • The real story is that we had a solar minimum that was much longer then expected, so this is the first sun-related news we've had in years that wasn't "absolutely nothing is happening".

      It's also about time to lay the groundwork for the "is the world going to end? Find out at 11!" stories that will run throughout 2012. At least one of the theories has the solar maximum playing some part and that doesn't work if people aren't aware that the sun shoots crap at us from time to time.
  • Last call for alcohol!

  • by Itninja (937614) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:25PM (#33116104) Homepage
    Do they mean it's traveling a straight line? Or do they mean it's is moving in such a way so as to collide with us when we come around to a certain point in space?
    • by rossdee (243626)

      I would guess it would be moving in nearly a straight line, after all the sun is the biggest gravity field in the vicinity and its moving away from that so its path won't be curved.

      In fact the main effect of the suns gravity would be to slow it down. Bur the since its a Corona it might be accelerating still due to a stuck gas pedal.

    • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday August 02, 2010 @05:47PM (#33116420) Homepage
      It's traveling very fast (one day to get here) in pretty much a straight line. It is so much larger and faster than the Earth that orbital motion can be neglected. Link [wikipedia.org]
    • by sznupi (719324)

      Considering a typical size of such thing and how fast this one will get here, there's not much of a difference between the two descriptions.

  • For those extra special pictures, when JPEG just isn't enough.

  • How far south will they be visible? Haven't seen an aurora in a very long time.

  • by kyoorius (16808) on Monday August 02, 2010 @06:43PM (#33117170) Homepage
    Last time we had a decent CME along with clear skies, I went outside and saw Aurora spread across the sky .. and this was located a 30 minute drive outside of New York City. Grabbed my Canon point and shoot camera and set it for 10 second exposure and this was the result:

    http://photo.omnistep.com/aurora11072004/ [omnistep.com]

    I heard they were seen as far south as the Carolina's.
  • erm (Score:3, Informative)

    by solarlux (610904) <noplasma@ y a h o o . com> on Monday August 02, 2010 @06:48PM (#33117228)
    I wouldn't get too excited. Only a C3.2 flare (ratings in order of severity are A,B,C,M,X) and not even a blip of high energy proton flux. Maybe we'll get some minor geomagnetic storming with the plasma cloud arrival and some auroral activity at least...
  • Wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by sjames (1099) on Monday August 02, 2010 @09:31PM (#33118632) Homepage

    I expected a misstep or two with the takeover, but Oracle REALLY screwed up this time!

  • Please tell me Nicolas Cage hasn't been studying a page full of seemingly random numbers that list the details of major disasters...
  • by noidentity (188756) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @07:32AM (#33121482)
    Weird, I had a dream this morning involving this theme, and I hadn't seen this story until after I woke up. In the dream, my game console was making a weird noise that wouldn't stop. I disconnected it, but it kept making the noise. Then I went into another part of the house and everything was making that noise, and there was no power. I thought it was an EMP or something from a nuclear blast, but then realized that would be very short, not continuous.

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