Aurora Watch


For 3 days sunspot AR2297 has produced eruptions of solar plasma. Today a powerful M9 flare proved this sunspot has lots more to say. Radiation (able to reach our planet within 8 minutes ) swiftly impacted HF radio frequencies over the Pacific Ocean. Few people would notice blinky radio signals, Auroras are an entirely different matter.

Envy can’t begin to describe my dismay over residing outside the Auroral Oval – that sweet spot where Northern Lights dance with wild abandon. Yesterday found me grumpy over a CIR, (co-rotating interaction region) alert – transition zones between slow and fast moving solar winds that pile up solar plasma and spark auroras when impacting the magnetosphere. As if that wasn’t enough, AR2297 unleashed a M9 in case I wasn’t paying attention.

All I can hope is to live vicariously through those lucky enough to fall under Aurora’s spell. This is the weekend to welcome Aurora.

http://spaceweather.com/

March 7, 2015 M9 class eruption captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

 

Solar Sector Boundary Crossing


Hang on for a lesson in solar dynamics – Earth is experiencing a solar sector boundary crossing. Let me explain….

The sun produces wind (currently 410.9 Km/second) that blasts across the cosmos. Just like Earth, our Sun has a magnetic field – known as the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF).  Whipped into a spiral rotation, wind driven IMF rotates in one direction. It divides into spiral sections pointing to and away from the sun along the ecliptic plane ( a direct line between Earth and the Sun). The edge of this swirling mass has a surface separating polarities of planetary and solar magnetism called the heliosphere current sheet.

http://spaceweather.com/glossary/imf.html

Earth’s magnetic field points north at the magnetopause (the point of contact between our magnetosphere and the IMF). If the IMF happens to point south at contact (scientific term, southward Bz) the two fields link causing partial cancellation of Earth’s magnetic field – in other words, opening a temporary door for solar energy to enter our atmosphere. Welcome solar sector boundary crossing – a phenomenon born of high solar wind and coronal mass ejections (CME’s – aka solar flares).

It takes 3 or 4 days for magnetism to sort itself out – in the meantime, and barring the occasional high frequency radio disruption,  wonky GPS and cell phones, peppered with sudden power grid failure events – we’re treated to kick ass auroras.

Magnetic Crochet


This is what happens when a solar eruption hurls energy our way at 11 million mph. Sunspot AR2017 erupted on March 29 with a healthy X-1 class flare – UV radiation ionized our upper atmosphere, resulting in a “ripple” in Earth’s magnetosphere. Known as a “magnetic crochet”, the disturbance occurred as AR2017 strutted her stuff –  geo-magnetic hiccups usually come knocking a few days after a flare – simultaneous “events” are rare.

For a short time radio signals were lost as static assaulted short wave operators.

Courtesy NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory – a video of AR2017 in action….

spaceweather.com

http://spaceweather.com/

AR2017 appears to have gotten it off her chest – simmering down with only a 55% chance of M and 20% chance of powerful X class activity in the next 24 hours. Dodging yet another cosmic EMP unscathed.

Scientists at Berkley have just released findings of a global “near miss” on July 23, 2012. A series of immense solar flares unleashed enough energy to rival the Carrington Event of 1859. Had the storm erupted 9 days earlier, our planet would have been in the cross hairs – global power grid failures, trillions of dollars in economic repercussions with an estimate of 4 – 10 years to recover.

http://www.universityherald.com/articles/8229/20140319/giant-solar-superstorm-narrowly-missed-earth-2-years-ago-electrical-damage-would-have-been-catastrophic.htm

 

 

Why So Uppity Mr. Sun?


The new year is arriving with a cosmic marching band. The sudden discovery of asteroid 2014 AA, a mere 24 hours before slamming the atmosphere and burning up over the Atlantic Jan. 2, now sunspot AR1944 is flexing gargantuan solar muscle.

This sunspot is so huge, it can be seen as a naked eye pock mark on the sun. Minding its manners for a day or two after showing up on Jan. 1, proved too much – AR1944 is in a tizzy, soon to be facing earth and by all appearances ready to kick ass. Waiting for a possible slap from a M4- class flare that erupted yesterday, could soon be over shadowed by a for more potent flare, coupled with AR 1944 facing earth.

NOAA scientists predict a 75% chance of M-class, and 30% of X-class flares within the next 24 hours. I know it’s difficult for those who don’t ponder solar activity to fathom the power of an earth directed super spot like AR 1944. I realize these predictions come and go, most often resulting in nothing more than a few airplanes altering course and spectacular auroras. Cry wolf enough times and soon nobody pays the slightest attention.

I think of these warnings as I would a tornado watch. All the elements are in place for a really bad day-it might take shape, or if we’re lucky just rain and hail like a banshee before the sunlight lets us get on with our day. Regardless, the warning is taken seriously and prepared for.

I’ve spoken about the Carrington event of 1859 till I’m blue in the face. If eyes don’t roll they glaze over as I recite the details; a solar flare witnessed by John Carrington, one that messed with our planet so much, telegraph stations burst into flames. A solar hit strong enough that if it happened today, could wipe out power for months. No cell phones, computers, ATMs, gasoline, water, heat, lights. Forget grocery stores or banks, forget your lights coming back anytime soon.

https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/carrington-event/

So call me the little ponderer who cried wolf, or get your head wrapped around solar flares and all their ramifications. There isn’t a thing we can do to stop them, a major “event” will happen again – all we can do is get some emergency supplies together and not go bat shit when our precious cell phones go dark.A link to space weather warnings currently in effect, click on the colored symbols for descriptions….

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/alerts/warnings_timeline.html

 

Solar Flare-Up


Our sun has been busy, purging plasma with the vengeance of Thor. A X-1 flare from sunspot AR1875 on Oct. 28 is the third X-class flare since Oct. 25. This follows three M-class flares since Oct. 20. None of the recent flares are likely to give any direct hits to our magnetic field; instead “glancing blows” are likely to stir up geo-magnetic storms, resulting in spectacular auroras.

For the next 24 hours, Solar Dynamics Observatory predicts a 75% chance of M-class and 30% chance of more X-class flares. My secret wish is for solar hiccups to last long enough for my trip next week to the Canadian prairies; the home of endless, dark, crystal clear skies. A place to take in the majesty of Northern Lights.

Holy Sunspot Batman


Solar activity makes me giddy; I prickle with school girl excitement at the mere mention of an earth directed CME.  I knew the sun was getting a little uppity – a visit to http://spaceweather.com/ when I got home from work set my heart a flutter. Our sun has been busy – three flares between Oct. 20 – 22 have apparently merged into one; promising to light up our magnetic field with auroras. Another powerful M-9 class flare hurled earthward yesterday, arrival time as yet unknown.

Courtesy NASA – Solar Dynamics Observatory

Sunspots AR1875 and 1877 are ready to speak their minds – both strutting their stuff – ready to make a statement. Predictions of activity in the next 24 hours may not be earth shattering – 40% chance of M-class and 10% chance of X-class flares – still enough of a magnetic storm for ridiculous northern lights.

Meanwhile, Comet C/2012X1 exploded 450 million Km’s from earth. Of little significance to our little corner of the universe, yet worthy of a look low on the eastern horizon an hour or so before sunrise if you happen to have a telescope.

Solar winds are relatively low at 345 Km/second.

This concludes tonight’s space weather report.

Massive AR 1785


Massive sunspot AR 1785 – eleven times the diameter of earth – now faces our planet with potential for some nasty flares. Space weather forecasters at NOAA predict a 55% chance of M-class and 10% X-class for today.

Luckily earth has the magnetosphere which deflects solar wind and concentrates solar energy at the magnetic pole. Scientists have known for a long time the magnetosphere wasn’t perfect; just as the ozone layer develops “holes”, our magnetic shield is prone to “cracks”. Anyone lucky enough to see an aurora has witnessed the power of electrically charged solar winds.

In 1961 scientist Jim Dungey theorized these cracks occurred when the solar energy arrived packing a magnetic field that travelled in the opposite direction from our magnetic field. We now know these cracks can remain open for hours, allowing billions of electrically charged particles to light up the sky. Severe solar storms can wipe out satellites, communication, and power.

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/03dec_magneticcracks/

AR 1785 will most likely blast tons of plasma into space before fading away. Geomagnetic storms will rage –  airplanes might change course to avoid radiation, auroras will dazzle, and few will be the wiser. I don’t lose sleep over space weather, I just wish more people understood the implications of a direct hit through an unlucky crack that could plunge us into darkness for months.

Photo by Taichi Nakamura of Dunedin New Zealand – southern hemisphere auroras when earth passed through a region of southward magnetic field, opening a crack in the magnetosphere on July 6.