A huge coronal mass ejection slammed into Earth today

Illustration for article titled A huge coronal mass ejection slammed into Earth today

On Tuesday night, the surface of the Sun erupted in an violent solar flare, blasting a massive wave of charged particles in the direction of Earth. And early this morning, those particles smashed into our planet's atmosphere.


The coronal mass ejection (CME) arrived this morning at approximately 5:45 EST. In the picture up top you can see Tuesday night's flare depicted by the conspicuously bright orange region on the upper left [Hi res available here; and definitely check out the video below of Tuesday night's burst].

NOAA reports that the Sun's upsurge was categorized as an X5.4, which means it's not only the second largest flare we've witnessed since 2007, it's also much more violent than the solar storm that had us canceling plane flights and keeping an eye out for low-latitude aurorae back in January.

According to SpaceWeather.com it's still too early to tell what kind of geomagnetic storms the particles' 4-million-mph collision with our atmosphere may trigger. NOAA says that "so far, the orientation of the magnetic field has been the opposite of what is needed" to cause the strongest storms. But that field, the Administration cautions, will continue to change, and earlier predictions that storms could reach the G3 level still "look justified." (At the time this post went live, the geomagnetic storm activity was at a G1 rating — for more information on how the NOAA ranks geomagnetic storms, see this chart.)

With these things in mind, space weather officials are still prepared for the strongest overall solar storm since December of 2006, and are anticipating the CME's arrival to have an impact on everything from radio transmissions, to electrical grids, to satellite navigation systems for at least the next 24 hours.

Fortunately, there are precautionary measures that can be taken against all of these potential hazards. Many aircraft flying over the Earth's polar regions — where communication issues are predicted to be especially intense — have already been rerouted; satellites affected by the storm are programmed to reboot with as little incident as possible; and in-space monitoring equipment operated by NASA and NOAA will provide network operators the time and foresight required to anticipate and respond to problems in a timely manner.

Illustration for article titled A huge coronal mass ejection slammed into Earth today

For most of us, however, the next day or two will likely carry out much like any other 24—48 hour period, save for a greater likelihood of witnessing some northern lights. This photo, for example, was just captured in the tundra east of Murmansk Russia. Photographer Giovanni Cappelli wrote to SpaceWeather.com:

"We were in the tundra waiting for the CME... The auroras were better than expected this time. This photo resembled green fire shooting up from the snow ."


Keep your eyes peeled, everybody — according to some predictions, even people in the lower 48 should have a chance of spotting some aurorae.

Read more on NASA and SpaceWeather.com. For ongoing updates on geomagnetic storm and solar radiation storm activity, check out NOAA.


Top image via NASA; Burst video via NASA Goddard; Russian aurora by Giovanni Cappelli via SpaceWeather.com


Simon DelMonte

So do solar storms make the mp3 players on iPhones start playing Tom Petty randomly? Because mine did that twice. And the first time, I thought it was coming from outside since my iPhone was stowed in my briefcase. But the second time, it was suspicious.

Any thought on the power of this storm to make electronics do stuff that's just wacky?