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Space Earth NASA Science

Solar X-Flare Blasts Directly Toward Earth 223

Freshly Exhumed writes with this excerpt from Space Weather: "Big sunspot AR1520 unleashed an X1.4-class solar flare on July 12th at 1653 UT. Because this sunspot is directly facing Earth, everything about the blast was geoeffective. For one thing, it hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) directly toward our planet. According to a forecast track prepared by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the CME will hit Earth on July 14th around 10:20 UT (+/- 7 hours) and could spark strong geomagnetic storms. Sky watchers should be alert for auroras this weekend."
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Solar X-Flare Blasts Directly Toward Earth

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  • Summer Light (Score:4, Insightful)

    by orangebox ( 1997192 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:52PM (#40645871)
    The Aurora Forecast [] predicts a good show. Too bad I doubt it will get dark enough in AK for my friends to see. Hopefully I can see it down here in Washington!
    • Is there any chance for Marylandia?

      • Not much chance for aurorae in Finland during "summer". There's not much darkness at night, unless it's really very cloudy - bright skies don't help with seeing aurorae. Anyway we've been mostly under clouds recently with a procession of low pressure systems and associated rainy fronts - clouds and rain don't help with seeing aurorae.

        • by fatphil ( 181876 )
          In 10 years, going out every night when the aurora forecast was listed as exceptionally high, we never saw an aurora once in Finland. From the look of some photos (from Hanko, for example) we missed them by less than 100km. The biggest enemy was clouds. Scuppered our meteor sightings too. And probably a lunar eclipse or 2.
    • Are these things only visible in the north? Maybe something this powerful can be seen from lower latitudes like 45deg north? I'm in Eastern Europe, in Romania, do you think it'll be visible?
      • Often visible in the southern hemisphere. The small southern city of Hobart, Australia, has very good views. Southern New Zealand would also be a good viewing platform.

        • by fatphil ( 181876 )
          The northern lights have never been seen in the southern hemisphere, you're thinking of the southern lights.
          The southern lights will never be visible in south-eastern europe.

          Due the inclination of the magnetic north pole, the northern lights are rarely seen further south than finland, and even sightings in the southernmost parts of finland are rare. As it's summer time, the skies are lighter than normal, even more so the further north you go, so I would be surprised if anyone in europe saw them at all.

      • A few years ago, we saw northern lights in central New York state. Which is about the same latitude as Romania. So I guess it's possible.

        • by fatphil ( 181876 )
          Nope, the north pole, and your distance from it, is mostly irrelevant. What's more important is your distance from the *magnetic* north pole. Given that it's still up in Canada - you're way closer in NY state than Romania is. At the rate the pole seems to be moving, maybe towards the end of the century there will be some hope for it to be seen further south in Europe.
  • Revised Forcast (Score:5, Informative)

    by rminsk ( 831757 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @10:53PM (#40645875)
    The CME launched toward Earth by yesterday's X-flare is moving faster than originally thought. Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab have revised their forecast accordingly, advancing the cloud's expected arrival time to 09:17 UT (5:17 am EDT) on Saturday, July 14th. Weekend auroras are likely.
  • "We can't outrun it. Turn to radial one-eight-zero, stop; one-five, stop. Full power to forward battle screens. Brace for impact."

  • Is it so wrong? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:03PM (#40645915)

    Is it wrong of me to be disheartened that this CME isn't stronger?

    I won't lie, a fairly large part of me (the part where the evil genius lives) wants a very very powerful geomagnetic storm to devistate our powergrids, knock out communications, fry satelites, and cause general chaos and havok.

    I understand that engineers often have antisocial tendencies, and I fully comprehend the ramifications of this unusual desire, but I still retain it.

    Is it so wrong?

    • Is it wrong of me to be disheartened that this CME isn't stronger?

      If it is, NASCAR is also a great evil. Which, you know, it is, but not for that reason.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I dunno man. The evil genius part of me wants to build an electronium hat powered by sunspots in order to emit cognitive radiation.

    • Just think of it as the big CTL-ALT-DELETE from the sky. It's not quite so anti social that way.

      • More aptly, the Big Red Button on the TRS-80 Model III computer. When I was in 4th grade, they had those in the school computer lab. The teachers had taped paper with "do not press!" on top of the button. Of course, a 4th grader wants nothing more than to press it. Our tendency towards chaos, or at least the curiosity to see what arises from a change in the system, starts young.

        • by meglon ( 1001833 )
          That happens when you're still young, but.... when you're 2 clicks underground in an ancient alien stronghold, screwing around with what you believe to be a computer system while some large lumbering thing is pounding it's way through a 5 inch thick durasteel composite door to get to you, and there's a single red button out of all of them, encased under some form of very strong glass like substance, with big bold alien letters on it.... do NOT push it.

          It's just a bad thing.
    • Is it wrong of me to be disheartened that this CME isn't stronger?

      I won't lie, a fairly large part of me (the part where the evil genius lives) wants a very very powerful geomagnetic storm to devistate our powergrids, knock out communications, fry satelites, and cause general chaos and havok.

      Is it so wrong?

      "Some men just want to watch the world burn." - Alfred Pennyworth

    • 1) XKCD: Disaster Voyeurism []

      2) For the greater portion of humanity to survive we are dependent upon the machines and electronics that control our energy systems. Can you imagine 7 billion people forced to hunt for their food after the refrigerator warm up? Like the comic above, it wouldn't take long before we'd be hunting ourselves.

    • by Sabriel ( 134364 )

      Something that bakes many a noodle is that a desire can be both wrong to indulge and normal* to have.

      It's also far better than having those antisocial/destructive tendencies without the cognitive ability to properly identify and contain them.

      *normal: as in, welcome to homo sapiens.

      You know how various professions have trouble watching shows about said profession because of how badly the writers get it wrong? I wonder if engineers (and those of an engineering bent) have those "antisocial tendencies" precisel

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Sociopath desire, not engineer desires.

      • incorrect.

        a sociopath, by definition, cares only about themselves and does not feel any moral obligation to other people.

        a sociopath would not ask the question to begin with. the very idea of wondering about the conflict would not occur to them, as there would be no conflict. to them, the destruction of the planet, as long as they stood to benefit from it in some way, could only be seen as beneficial.

        this is not the case with my motivation for the desire, and my desire for input about the dichotomy of that

        • Re:Is it so wrong? (Score:4, Informative)

          by amorsen ( 7485 ) <> on Saturday July 14, 2012 @09:29AM (#40647929)

          Solar irradiation of the earth is 1600 EJ

          This is wrong. Solar irradiation at 1 AU is somewhere in the region of 1350W/m^2. The Earth has a diameter of approximately 6371000m, which is a disc of 1.27*10^14 m^2. This gives 1.72*10^17W or 0.172EW. Over a year, 365.25*86400s, this comes to 5.400.000EJ.

          Wikipedia is wrong.

          In fact, from a different page on Solar energy [], "Photosynthesis captures approximately 3,000 EJ per year in biomass." Pretty impressive if solar irradiation is only 1,600EJ. And unlike the 1,600 EJ figure, this one actually comes with a useful citation.

          The cited page, FAO on Energy conversion by photosynthetic organisms, chapter 2 [] has this to say:

          "Approximately 5.7 x 1024 J of solar energy are irradiated to the earth's surface on an annual basis. Plants and photosynthetic organisms utilize this solar energy in fixing large amounts of CO2 (2x1011 t = 3x1021 J/year), while amounts consumed by human beings are relatively small, (3 x 1020 J/year) (1), representing only 10% of the energy converted during photosynthesis."

          So, it is time for you to revise your ideas about how humanity should live.

        • Total annual insolation of the earth is closer to 5 million exajoules [], of which at least half makes it to the surface.

    • You will when someone murders you for your stuff.

  • The effects of a solar flair like that happen across a wide degree of speeds. We get hit by light and I assume other things like xrays etc first, but other things will travel slower. The mass ejection is the slowest part isn't it? So seeing as the earth moves, I don't see how we can possibly get hit by all of the components of the flair.

    They make it sound like we got "bullseyed" for this incoming storm, when really the sun had to have "lead the target" by quite a distance right? Or are these events so w

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @11:36PM (#40646057)
    While the news before the fact is great for those of us living some place with a chance of catching the aurora, I don't think there is any indication there will be strong geomagnetic storms. NOAA Space Weather Center [] is predicting only storm level of G1 with a chance of G2, which happens quite frequently. Usually if something big is coming, their alert timeline [] lights up with a lot more than a G1 or warning of A > 20. I've made a habit of taking the 10 seconds to check their alert page every time a relative links or talks about a story of some massive geomagnetic storm coming, and pretty much every time it shows (both before and after) that it was something minor that happens with a frequency of more than once a month.
    • I assume it's just a cosmic coincidence that NOAA's Space Weather Alerts and Warnings Timeline chart [] looks like a cross between Space Invaders [] and Missile Command []? Big yellow bars of light barely missing pixelated aliens as they descend from the sky?
    • How stupefyingly rational. Thanks for taking the fun out of it, man.

      This is 2012, FFS. We deserve an epic worldwide disaster, be it an attack by the sun, volcanoes unleashing eons worth of pent-up primordial energy, or accidental release of hyper-engineered bio-weapons.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Am I reading something wrong. The linked page has an A>20 watch right now.

  • by matunos ( 1587263 ) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @12:36AM (#40646299)

    Sky watchers should be alert for auroras this weekend.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday July 14, 2012 @02:03AM (#40646573) Homepage

    Just checked the PJM [] dashboard, which shows what's going on for the power grid in the northeastern US. They haven't put up a Solar Magnetic Disturbance Warning for this event.

    NOAA predicts a maximum A index of 25 and a maximum K index of 3 at low latitudes, 6 at high latitudes (Canada, roughly). [] PJM says they issue an alert when there's an A index of 40 or above or a K index of 5 or above. K=6 and 7 level events aren't serious problems; trouble occurs around 8 and 9.

    The last event that caused a blackout was in 1989. Since then, more monitoring gear has been added and plans made for when this problem occurs. The basic effect is that the solar wind induces DC currents in the earth, causing a huge ground loop between distant grounding points. This causes DC current to flow through AC high tension lines, which heats up transformers and causes some confusion in measurements. Those DC currents are constantly monitored. When DC flows are observed, the AC currents on the line have to be reduced to prevent transformer overheating. It's an operational problem, but not a disaster.

    (If you're really interested in this topic, here's the PJM training presentation that covers solar and magnetic disturbances. [] This is the perspective from the people who operate the power grid. "When solar magnetic disturbance is confirmed, Salem 1 and 2 units will reduce to 80% power and Hope Creek to 85% power...")

  • to call Bruce WIllis?

  • Now that's a good word. I'm going to be sure to try to use my new-found word at least 5 times in conversation today.
  • No worries, and the flare fired directly at the Earth on the 12th and the Earth will have undoubtedly found someplace else to be in the meantime.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"