Sun's MASSIVE solar storm belch to light up Earth's skies

Watch experts chat about the effects on humanity

Solar flare

Video A "significant" solar flare emitted by the Sun on Wednesday will hit our planet over the next few days – most likely causing auroras to appear over certain areas.

As a result of an X1.6 solar flare intercepting Earth, a dazzling overhead light display could reach as far south as Maryland in the east of the US and down to Kansas farther west, as well as elsewhere in the world, according to Accuweather.

On Thursday, a view of the sunspot responsible for the massive X1.6 solar flare was streamed live over the web:

The video, captured by the Prescott Observatory in Arizona, US, was broadcast by the folks at Slooh. It shows the Sun's active region 2158, which pumped out the X-class flare – technically, a coronal mass ejection (CME) – on Wednesday. The powerful X1.6 cloud was one of two cosmic burps from AR 2158 this week.

The blast, its leading edge moving about eight million miles an hour, headed towards Earth and its initial effects have already been detected by radio equipment on the surface. The rest of the storm should intercept our planet by the weekend. While its strength is within the "extreme" bracket on the scale used by astronomers, it's not exactly expected to wipe out life as we know it.

NASA's Youtube video of the X1.6 flare

Power grids and satellite comms systems may experience some effects when the solar belch's high-energy radiation reaches and interacts with the Earth's magnetosphere, but no damage or chaos is expected.

The Northern Lights could be intensified by the incoming storm, though. People in northern Europe, Asia, Canada, and the north of the United States may see some auroras as a result. Connections to GPS birds may be briefly affected, we're warned.

NASA noted yesterday:

The Sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2014. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground. However – when intense enough – they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

And SpaceWeather.com reports:

STORM WARNING: Among space weather forecasters, confidence is building that Earth's magnetic field will receive a double-blow from a pair of CMEs on Sept. 12th. The two storm clouds were propelled in our direction by explosions in the magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2158 on Sept. 9th and 10th, respectively. Strong geomagnetic storms are possible on Sept. 12th and 13th as a result of the consecutive impacts. Sky watchers, even those at mid-latitudes, should be alert for auroras in the nights ahead.

Sunspot AR2158 erupted on Sept. 10th at 17:46 UT, producing an X1.6-class solar flare. A flash of ultraviolet radiation from the explosion ionized the upper layers of Earth's atmosphere, disturbing HF radio communications for more than an hour. More importantly, the explosion hurled a CME directly toward Earth.

Radio hams and astronomers have already picked up roaring static as a result of the flare: "It was absolutely howling," Thomas Ashcraft, who has an amateur radio observatory in rural New Mexico, told SpaceWeather.

"What solar experts fear most is a recurrence of the huge Coronal Mass Ejection events of 1921 and 1859," said Slooh astronomer Bob Berman today.

"A government-sponsored panel in 2008 estimated that such a solar event today would likely destroy the US electrical grid, inflict a staggering $1 to $2 trillion dollars worth of damage, and require over a year to repair.

"So it’s more than of mere academic interest to monitor and observe these violent events as they unfold. Plus, they’re amazing to watch.”

"There's been a giant magnetic explosion on the sun. Because it's pointed right at us, we'll at least catch some of the cloud," Tom Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, told AP.

A whopping X2.2 flare was emitted by our star in June, but as you may have noticed, civilization survived. ®


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