January 23, 2012 1 Comment
Early this morning (0359 GMT Jan. 23, which corresponds to late Sunday, Jan. 22 at 10:59 p.m. EST), NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught an extreme ultraviolet flash from a huge eruption on the sun , according to the skywatching website Spaceweather.com.
The solar flare spewed from sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has become increasingly active lately. Several NASA satellites, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and the Stereo spacecraft observed the massive sun storm.
Scientists call these electromagnetic bursts “coronal mass ejections” (CMEs), and they are closely studied because they can produce potentially harmful geomagnetic storms when the charged particles rain down Earth’s magnetic field lines.
In addition to generating stronger than normal displays of Earth’s auroras (also known as the northern and southern lights), geomagnetic storms aimed directly at our planet can also disrupt satellites in orbit, cause widespread communications interference and damage other electronic infrastructures.
“There is little doubt that the cloud is heading in the general direction of Earth,” Spaceweather.com announced in an alert. “A preliminary inspection of SOHO/STEREO imagery suggests that the CME will deliver a strong glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24-25 as it sails mostly north of our planet.”
Sunday’s solar flare was rated an M9-class eruption, which placed it just on the verge of being an X-class flare, the most powerful type of solar storm. M-class sun storms are powerful but mid-range, while C-class flares are weaker.