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Solar Storms - Coronal Mass Ejections
Solar Storm Hitting Earth - A Strong Geomagnetic Storm
It seems a good time to learn more about solar storms, especially since one is hitting the earth this week (January 22nd, 2012). Evidently, it is the largest geomagnetic storm to hit in six years. The sun is, in effect, bombarding the earth with a CME, or Coronal Mass Ejection. With this comes a lot of radiation. It is said, that the level of radiation expected to only cause minor problems with things like satellites, navigation devices and power grids.
Evidently, while this kind of event and the radiation it puts off, could affect systems and cause errors in satellites, they are expected to keep on working. One has to wonder what a larger and greater solar storm could do to such things in the future, in a time when we are so reliant on our satellites. One also can't help but wonder, that if it can effect satellites and power grids, how can it not affect our human bodies? Would it have helped to stay indoors, or in basements, etc?
You can imagine the excitement at NASA, and with scientists everywhere. There is a five point scale they use, and this storm was fore-casted to be about a G-2 or G-3. The NOAA measures it as an S3, or "strong." At least it isn't to the severe, or extreme level that it could go to. We of course, are somewhat protected because of earth's magnetic field. Just another reason that it is a great thing to live on the planet earth, as opposed to anywhere else in the galaxy or universe! Had this storm rated a 4 or a 5, then our Earth's weather could be more affected by it. I am glad it wasn't that strong.
As far as worrying about the radiation levels, some scientists are saying we don't need to worry about it. If you happened to be on a flight path with a polar route, that may not be a good thing, but other than that there shouldn't be cause for alarm. Also, those kinds of flights, since they will be affected by the radiation, will be diverted or canceled. They could have had possible communication issues, and that isn't worth the risk. This is what we saw happening at least on a small scale, as I watched and read the news today.
Sunday the 22nd of January, was when the storm was set off. There was a chain of events that caused this particular solar storm. It started with a solar flare, which occurs all the time in every solar cycle. This solar flare was somehow connected to a coronal mass ejection, which also is a fairly common occurrence. A coronal mass ejection is a combination of huge bursts of solar wind, light isotope plasma, and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona (or being released into space). They have found that most ejections come from the more active regions on the sun's surface. An example of this would be a grouping of sunspots that are often associated with flares. This particular ejection however, was extra large, and it sent a cloud of plasma with a magnetic field with it. It was sent toward the earth at an amazing speed, of somewhere near four million miles per hour!
One report said that within about one hour, the earth began to experience some of the radiation put off by the solar storm on Sunday. Evidently the ones that "escape", head off towards the earth at the speed of light. This is what caused the geomagnetic storm that I only barely heard about in the news. I was able to find out more about it searching for news on it on the Internet. This geomagnetic storm was expected to last one day. By the time I heard about this whole event, it had already hit the planet one hour and a half prior.
In looking at the size of the solar storm, it looks like it could be the size of Saturn or even Jupiter. One thing is for sure, it is a massive solar storm. I think its fascinating to keep up with things like this, and I hope to always keep up on this sort of news. As a person that has experienced a little of what black outs can be like in California, it can potentially have a huge impact on our societies.
This Coronal Mass Ejection was expected to reach the earth about 9am ET, and continue on into Wednesday, January 25. It is possible that people could see auroras as far south as New York.
Prediction of Solar Activity and the Future
It is now easier than ever to predict these coronal mass ejections and other star activity. They are watching the surface all the time, which I am glad for, considering we are very small compared to the massiveness of the sun. They were only off by 13 minutes, I read in one report, in regards to the effects hitting the earth. There were some disruptions to spacecraft and power grids. Scientists are now saying that as the sun is coming out of its eleven year dormant cycle, we can expect to see an increase in activity like this. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections alike will be increasing. It is good for us to know on earth, especially if they are larger than the last ones so people can respond accordingly.