Two Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) Headed for Earth
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!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. 🙂
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Posted on November 24, 2012, in Geek, My Nerdography, Nerd, Science, Space and tagged albany, alloy matt, aurora, blogger, borealis, CME, coronal mass ejection, corvallis, earth, geek, geomagnetic storm, lebanon, magnetosphere, matt jacobs, nerd, nerdography, northern lights, oregon, solar flare, solar wind, space. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.