Two Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) Headed for Earth

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this image of a coronal mass ejection (CME) — defined by the thin circle of light around the left and bottom of the sun – on Nov. 21, 2012, at 1:42 p.m. EST as it began to move away from the sun into space. This image from SOHO is what’s known as a coronagraph, in which the bright light of the sun is blocked in order to make the dimmer structures in the sun’s atmosphere, or corona, visible. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO [Read Article]

Above is a picture of the first of two Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections that is known as the Thanksgiving CMEs, the second is pictured below. Coronal Mass Ejections are similar to solar flares, but with a much higher rate of speed and size. These two CMEs are currently on their way to Earth. Calm down Doomsayers! NASA’s website is saying that these are as strong as some others that have hit us before, and will cause some amazing geomagnetic storms but nothing our magnetosphere can’t handle.

What is a Coronal Mass Ejection?

A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), put simply, is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space. Coronal mass ejections release huge quantities of matter and electromagnetic radiation into space above the sun’s surface, either near the corona (sometimes called a solar prominence) or farther into the planet system or beyond (interplanetary CME). The ejected material is a plasma consisting primarily of electrons and protons, but may contain small quantities of heavier elements such as helium, oxygen, and even iron. [Wikipedia]

These are similar to solar flares. Solar flares are, generally, more like geysers of plasma that have enough force to escape the gravitational pull of the sun. Sometimes they are strong enough to reach other planets, but, often times, they are not. Well, our planet, anyway. Coronal Mass Ejections are greater in size (carrying more plasma) and move at a much higher rate of speed. As you can see in the second picture (below), the CME extends across approximately one-fifth of the surface of the Sun!

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this image of a coronal mass ejection (CME), erupting on the left side of the sun, on Nov. 23, 2012, at 1:30 p.m. EST as it was moving away from the sun into space. This is the third such CME since Nov. 20.  This image from SOHO is what’s known as a coronagraph, in which the bright light of the sun is blocked in order to make the dimmer structures in the sun’s atmosphere, or corona, visible. Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO [Read Article]

What Impact do CMEs have on Earth?

These types of phenomena have an effect that is similar to the solar winds we that hit the Earth constantly. The solar particles and radiation that are carried with them hit the Earth’s magnetosphere (a bullet shaped region of space that is created by Earth’s internal magnetic field), which absorbs the energy from the radiation and particles, gathers the energy at the Earth’s poles and converts that energy into visible light energy in the form of a geomagnetic storm (i.e. Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, etc.) as shown below.

[youtube http://youtu.be/sBWPCvdv8Bk]

It is true that CMEs can carry HUGE amounts of energy that are capable of penetrating Earth’s magnetosphere, or even, temporarily, stripping it off completely. Yes, that would be very bad indeed. The good news is, we have been hit with CMEs of this speed & size in the past. That being the case, NASA is officially predicting that these CMEs will have no effect on the satellites orbiting  Earth and will only cause more brilliant geomagnetic storms and possible auroras further south. In fact, several of similar size hit the Earth during the solar storms of 1859. These were strong enough to knock out telegraphs in America and Europe. No need to worry people! Technology has come a long way since 1859. The Sun goes through ~11 year cycles of greater solar activity, and we are currently coming to the close of one of these cycles.

So here’s my Question of the Day… Are you going to go outside and look up at the sky for the next few nights, hoping to see an aurora? I know I will! I’ll take some pics or video of it if it happens to come as far south as Oregon (not very likely). If you see any, no matter where you are, send them to me and I’ll post them up here! I’ll bet Marian Call up in Alaska will see some… I have a post about her new album coming soon. 🙂

Feel free to leave your comments/suggestions/questions in the comments section below and don’t forget to share this post wherever you like to share things that you like (there’s a few buttons at the bottom to help with that). Should you be interested in more stuff like this, you can always subscribe to my RSS Feed, Follow me on Twitter or add me to your Circles on Google+!
    

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About Alloy Matt

Happy Husband | Beardsman | Blogger | Dreamer | Wholigan | Drinker of Coffees | Tweeter of Hashtags | Gamer of Table Tops | Amature Astronomer | Fanboy of Apple

Posted on November 24, 2012, in Geek, My Nerdography, Nerd, Science, Space and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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