Gigantic solar flares have been seen erupting from the surface of the sun this week, continuing a trend of incredibly active solar radiation. Solar radiation, as many know, can have profound effects on the earth—from creating power outages and loss of cell phone reception to massive social upheaval and unrest.
National Geographic reports:
A mushroom of cooled plasma popped like a pimple and rained onto the surface of the sun yesterday—shooting perhaps the largest amount of solar material into space ever seen, scientists say.
The solar flare—a unusually bright spot on the sun—wasn’t surprising as a “moderate” event. Space observatories in the past year recorded about 70 such solar flares, each roughly ten times weaker than “extreme” flares, of which only two have occurred since 2007.
Instead, what shocked scientists was the unusual amount of material that lofted up, expanded, and fell back down over roughly half the surface area of the sun. The event’s simultaneous launch of particles into space is called a coronal mass ejection (CME).
“This totally caught us by surprise. There wasn’t much going on with this spot, but as it came from behind the sun, all of the sudden there was a flare and huge ejection of particles,” said astrophysicist Phillip Chamberlin of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), one of several spacecraft that recorded the event.
“We’ve never seen a CME this enormous.”
Solar Flares May Threaten Power Grids
Chamberlin said it will take some time to calculate the energy and mass of electrons and protons blasted into space. But he noted the volume occupied a space hundreds of times bigger than a single Earth.
The ejection of particles burst from the right limb of the sun and sprayed into space, so the blast will miss Earth—though the explosion may brighten auroras near Earth’s poles, Chamberlin said.
What do you think—what effects can we expect from the newest round of solar flares?