Solar Storms

Well it seems that sunspot group 486 has produced one of the largest solar flares since 1976. It is ranked as X17.2 on the equivalent of the Solar Richter scale. The SOHO spacecraft - a joint mission between ESA and NASA has some nice images and animations of the event. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a animation of the ejection of plasma from the surface of the Sun - the Sun is obscured by a disk so that it is possible to see flares and prominences around the edges.

The cornonal mass ejection (CME) sends lots of high energy charged particles out into space. What makes this event interesting is that we are now 2-3 years after sunspot maximum - the Sun has a roughly 11 year cycle of activity. If the Earth happens to be in the path of a flare, the charged particles follow the Earth's magnetic field lines to the poles (North and South) where they can cause aurora and possibly black-outs like the one in Canada in 1989. So if it is clear tonight, and you are at a fairly northern latitude, you might be able to see an impressive display of Northern lights.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 29th Oct 2003 (12:16 UTC) | Permalink
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