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Space Science

NASA Records Solar Blast of Epic Proportions 123

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-burnt-my-fingers dept.
Arvisp writes "As predicted, the a 'mega-filament' of solar magnetism erupted on Dec. 6th, producing a blast of epic proportions. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action as the 700,000-km long structure lifted off the stellar surface and--snap!!--hurled itself into space. The eruption produced a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) observed by the STEREO-A spacecraft: video. Earth was not in the line of fire; the cloud should sail wide of our planet. Earth-effects might be limited to pretty pictures."
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NASA Records Solar Blast of Epic Proportions

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  • Have the detection systems advanced to where NASA and the sun watchers can detect CMEs when they are not on the limb of the sun, but bursting directly at Earth?

    I know a satellite is supposed to go up to help with that at some point, but can they detect them ahead of time now?

    • by nametaken (610866) * on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:07PM (#34480286)

      I just read somewhere that these filament bursts contain cooler plasma, so they show as dark areas when observing the sun.

    • by afidel (530433)
      Yes, STEREO currently is out at L4 and L5 and so can see CME's pointed towards earth however they are not in a stable orbit there so that ability will be lost for a bit during 2015 when their orbits put them on the far side of the sun.
      • Yes, STEREO currently is out at L4 and L5 and so can see CME's pointed towards earth however they are not in a stable orbit there so that ability will be lost for a bit during 2015 when their orbits put them on the far side of the sun.

        STEREO were in the vicinity of the Earth-Sun L4 and L5 late last year. They are no longer there.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ", the a 'mega-filament'.."

    pick one, the or a, but not both.

    or did you fail to mention the b 'mega filament'..

    • The big yellow one is the sun! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORTLn-RDnQ4 [youtube.com]

      But seriously, if you look at the sun in the middle of your video, the mass ejection appears to be much larger than the Sun itself. Wow!

      • by Coren22 (1625475)

        After watching that video, I have to say that the funniest part is that the comedian had no clue what the audience member was talking about. Granted, it was almost 30 years later, but I would think he would remember his own material.

  • by Orga (1720130) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:10PM (#34480320)
    I'm not up on these sorts of things, it does look quite spectacular though. Does anyone know what kind of effects we might have seen on Earth if this had been directly towards us?
    • I'm not up on these sorts of things, it does look quite spectacular though. Does anyone know what kind of effects we might have seen on Earth if this had been directly towards us?

      We wouldn't be seeing much of anything if this had been coming straight for us.

    • I'm not up on these sorts of things, it does look quite spectacular though. Does anyone know what kind of effects we might have seen on Earth if this had been directly towards us?

      Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
      Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
      Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
      Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      We're all dead from the last CME. This is a very elaborate dream-like state you're having just like in Brainstorm when they recorded that dead brain on the optical tape machine thing. Just go into the light... we can't keep this hallucination going for much longer.

    • Realistically, it would have probably taken out a lot of satellites, and utilities would likely have needed to turn off power in order to preserve transformers. Discovery Channel had an interesting series "Perfect Storms" that covered a mega-sized CME hitting Earth.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by rtyhurst (460717)

      Had this been pointed at Earth, cockroaches would now be the dominant species.

      The fact that pictures of Paris Hilton's poontang are freely available on the interwebs means for sure these are the End Times.

      I'm sure The Creator is just having a few practise shots before loading up The Rapture Cannon...

  • Scale (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:11PM (#34480336) Homepage Journal

    For scale, 700,000km is half the diameter of the Sun.

    -Peter

  • by TWX (665546) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:11PM (#34480342)

    ...and it would be nice to know how strong such a solar flare would be by the time it reaches the ~150,000,000 kilometers distance that the Earth is from the Sun, and what kind of ramifications such a flare could have, now that we've actually seen one for real. I'm not looking for the gloom and doom worst-case type stuff either, rather I'd like to know the range of effects, including human-eye-observable effects, that such a discharge could have...

    • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:51PM (#34480768) Homepage

      Geomagnetic storm. [wikipedia.org]

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      As I understand it, smaller CMEs happen periodically. They can cause blackouts, satellite problems, and increased radiation risk to astronauts and air fliers, but otherwise they're a nonevent. Mostly just brighter aurorae. A big one could really wreck the power grid, but that's probably the extent of the impact as far as most people are concerned. At least that's the current thinking.

    • by natehoy (1608657) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:54PM (#34480796) Journal

      These things aren't mysteries, even to many laypeople. Of course, I'm a private pilot, so the potential interference to radio communications, GPS, etc maybe makes me a little more aware of it than most, but it's not like this is a new phenomenon or something we've just now discovered thanks to modern science. Humanity knew about these before the 1800's, and their effects on electrical devices were pretty clearly demonstrated by Mother Nature since at least 1859 (the Carrington Event, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859 [wikipedia.org] ).

      We've been hit by CMEs in the past, and their effects are pretty well understood. The potential impacts of this are real, and very inconvenient, in that they can knock out power grids with relative ease ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_1989_geomagnetic_storm [wikipedia.org] ). We haven't had a strong hit since the cellular telephone was invented in 1989, so we have little experience with the really strong ones and modern electronics, but frying a few million computers and smartphones would (if not fatal) have some pretty nasty economic consequences for the owners of same.

      The only level of lethality would be if you are somehow dependent on electricity, or the possible introduction of electricity into places you weren't expecting it. So, for example, if you hear about a strong geomagnetic event, it's probably not a good idea to go out and lean on any local ungrounded aluminum-sided house or any very large piece of ungrounded conductive material. You might become the grounding strap. That could be bad. Think of it as a lightning event, except it's smaller lightning but appears everywhere, even inside things.

      Upside: While it's dark at night what with all the lack of power and your neighbors not burning their 10,000 watt back yard lights all night, you'll see the coolest aurora display ever if you live far enough north (and that could be as far south as Texas with a strong event). "Aurora Borealis, shinin' down in Dallas, can you picture that?"

      We know it damages things as crude as telegraph machines, including setting the paper in them on fire from sparks, because it has. CMEs can impart energy into metal, and the electrical network is a huge freaking CME antenna, so in a strong storm expect at least temporary loss of power, and longer if there's enough strength to overload transformers and the like.

      The CME can either cancel out the existing electricity in the power grid, or it can add to it, depending on polarity. A modestly strong CME impact can actually impart electricity into unshielded electronics and fry them where they sit due to nothing more sophisticated than voltage overload, even if they are not plugged in (this is known as "geomagnetically-induced current").

      A little light reading for when you get curious.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_storm#Historical_occurrences [wikipedia.org]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_storm [wikipedia.org]

      • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @07:33PM (#34481260) Homepage

        ...so we have little experience with the really strong ones and modern electronics, but frying a few million computers and smartphones would (if not fatal) have some pretty nasty economic consequences for the owners of same.

        We don't need such experience. We have physics, which tells us that even extremely severe geomagnetic storms won't affect such devices at all.

        • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @08:24PM (#34481750)

          We don't need such experience. We have physics

          One of the funniest things ever said on Slashdot. Congratulations!

        • Interestingly, as I read your comment, I pictured a gnarled old farmer being lectured by a sharp-nosed scholar, fresh from the city, as to how to run his farm. The farmer seems to be torn between laughing uproariously and walking away with a disbelieving shake of his head.
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          We have physics, which tells us that even extremely severe geomagnetic storms won't affect such devices at all.

          The other two responses to your comment correct. You are not. You might want to read up on it before showing your ignorance. During the Carrington Event, for instance, wikipedia says that people leaning against a metal shed were electrocuted -- and people can take far more electricity than semiconductors.

      • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @07:13AM (#34484936)
        I really don't know where you get your "intel", but for the most part your very mislead into the effects.

        CME and flares have 3 main effects.

        In space the plasma(high energy charged particles) is effectively a very high dose of radiation to satellites. This can cause temporary, or even in extreme cases, permanent failure. The radiation damages microelectronics, and cause little currents that cause parasitic transistors to "latch on".

        The radiation also affects the ionosphere. This can have a dramatic effect on radio wave propagation through and off this layer of the atmosphere and will strongly affect communications that depend on this layer. It can in fact improve performance of some long wave bands.

        Finally we come to the fact that the CME is a plasma and has a magnetic field with it. This pushes the earths magnetic field and can cause induction effects on earth surface. This is the only thing that affects terrestrial equipment. The radiation does not penetrate the ~10 metric tons of atmosphere per m^2. However the shifting magnetic field could lead to locally higher levels of background radiation, this would be more prevalent around the poles where its higher anyway. Also note that much of the little stuff blamed on the 1989 event is dubious. Even the wiki citation about "microchips" leads to a story where 3 hard drives failed (This happened to our raid system last year, we didn't blame CME).

        The earth magnetic field is quite weak so the induction only affects very large "loops", like a telegram network or a electrical grid. Small "loops" like microelectronics, Aluminum buildings, ungrounded "metal" etc don't notice anything. It is nothing like lightning. Long range communications is now done with fiber for the most part, so the "large loops" are only city wide now days, and are unlikely to be badly affected. But electrical grids are somewhat susceptible, there are massive loops 100 even 1000 of km across. The voltage induced is still quite low, but this can still produce a very large current. This current is typically DC compared to the normal AC load power. This can have a detrimental effect on transformers by pushing the magnetic core into saturation. This typically disrupts wave forms and causes a "short circuit" and breakers should trip in at that point without serious damage being done. This was the case for march 1998 event, power was restored within 9 hours. However one large transformer was damaged. But this kind of redundancy is built into most grids and this did not seriously affect electrical supply in Canada outside the immediate affects.

        Just to get a feel for the kind of "volts" we are talking about. Even if the full magnetic flux "swing" at the north pole (about 60uT/m2) in 1sec will induce just 18mV on a 10m radius *wire* loop. In practice this is very unrealistic and true swings is orders of magnitude less. From your links a swing of only 1.6uT for the 1859 event or 37 times less and over longer time intervals, ie a loop need to have an area of 625000m2 to induce 1V if that swing takes 1 sec (typically it takes *much* longer). Note you can't "ground" this emf, this is not how induction works, so you can't be a grounding strap it you touch the loop.
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          The earth magnetic field is quite weak so the induction only affects very large "loops", like a telegram network or a electrical grid.

          "Weak" is a relative term.

          My dad was an electrical lineman for forty years, much of it in construction. He told me that even before the big, high tension towers were connected to generators, you could loop a wire around the cables, and weld your initials into the tower with them. He said he could never figure out how that worked.

          I surmised that the miles and miles of newly in

    • Snooki gets a darker tan...
  • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @06:18PM (#34480434) Homepage Journal
    Wikileaks founder arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, United States and many other countries partake in secret, scandalous dealings outside of the public view, the DOJ cracks down on piracy sites thus paving the way for internet censorship, the space shuttle launch delays another month, slashdotters begin to buy tinfoil hats by the case as human society faces major upheavals....

    "And the universe does not even notice...."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You mean Blizzard didn't cause the flare as part of the Catalysm launch?

    • by imrec (461877)
      Ugh, no kidding. I actually felt kind of sick watching the animation. The heat and pressure happening there... Man, so small. We are sooooo small... all of humanity's trials, triumphs, defeats, accomplishments... Not even a cosmic blip.

      I recall Neil Tyson [wikipedia.org] making a remark to the effect of how it's difficult to consider the idea of a benevolent deity/god/whatever when the universe is trying so, so badly to kill us. We have such little business existing at all.

      Well... back to watching Jackass.
    • by w0mprat (1317953)

      Wikileaks founder arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, United States and many other countries partake in secret, scandalous dealings outside of the public view, the DOJ cracks down on piracy sites thus paving the way for internet censorship, the space shuttle launch delays another month, slashdotters begin to buy tinfoil hats by the case as human society faces major upheavals.... "And the universe does not even notice...."

      You might want to ground that tinfoil hat in the event of a CME impacting the earths magnetosphere... because tinfoil will become an antenna and you an earthed conductor.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Call me when one hits the Earth directly and rips off half of our atmosphere.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This happened to me last night at Taco Bell.
  • ... the cloud should sail wide of our planet.

    Damn! There goes my chance for super powers.

  • Now we know what happened to Azeroth...

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday December 07, 2010 @07:59PM (#34481542) Journal
    "As predicted" ? I thought we were lacking a model to predict this kind of eruptions ?
  • I just Disc Doctored

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