Changing Planet

Solar Storm Heading Toward Earth

Skywatchers should be on alert for possible geomagnetic storms this week that may trigger colorful displays of auroras.

Today on April 11th at 7:16 UT (3:16 am ET) a large, Earth- facing group of sunspots hurled a massive cloud of plasma and charged particles into space. Heading towards our planet at high speed, the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) was first spotted by NASA’s sun-monitoring satellite , the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and is expected to slam into Earth’s protective magnetic field sometime in the early morning hours of April 13th.

According to Spaceweather.com,  the front of the storm is already being felt  in the form of space radiation (energized protons) speeding by Earth. The high influx of charged particles buffeting the magnetic field can potentially pose a hazard to everything from GPS signals, polar radio communications, power grids  and circuit boards on orbiting satellites.

NASA's  Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this movie of a large solar blast emerging from the Sun's surface on April 11, 2013. The fast moving CME cloud is seen passing in front of Mars and brighter Venus on the left side of the frame.  Credit: NASA/SOHO
NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this movie of a large solar blast emerging from the Sun’s surface on April 11, 2013. The fast moving CME cloud is seen passing in front of Mars and brighter Venus on the left side of the frame. Credit: NASA/SOHO

 

So far indications are that this current bout of space radiation is classified as a minor one– only causing disruption to high-frequency radio chatter in the polar regions.

Of course what everyone wants to know is if they will see any light show in the sky. That will depend on the strength of the storm and the orientation of Earth’s dynamic magnetic field when it is expected to hit on the 13th.  Skywatchers, especially in high latitudes, should be on alert for possible northern lights. (see also: Pictures: Auroras of February and March)

Best time to try and capture pictures of auroras  in general  is to head outside between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows emanating from near the horizon.  In terms of equipment and technique, all you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a remote timer. (Related:  Did You Hear the Northern Lights?).

We are heading towards the peak activity time in the Sun’s 11 year cycle, called solar maximum, over the course of the next few months so there may be many opportunities to catch sight of northern lights. It’s important to remember however that we are still in the very early stages of being able to predict precisely when auroral displays will occur, and their potential intensity.  But with some patience and luck we might be in for a decent cosmic light show this week.

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • auroras

    OOOK…can you now say it in english

  • jakob

    has the storm had any affect on Curiosity’s mission?

  • courtney

    that doesnt sound good, i just watched something on Dnews that said it could create complete darkness, meaning no electricity! no phones, no gps, so lights nothing. lets just hope it doesnt hit to hard!

  • Anoop Bharadwaj Y.P.

    Hope it does not disturb our communication network!

  • laleh

    Animal

  • Roi’ikka-Ta

    my god we’re all going to fry!!! just kiddingg!

  • Soe Min Htut

    Solar flares could change the world ‘s electrical communication systems’s environment indeed.
    Gfcourse it could .I believe it.

  • slartybartfast

    Oh hell, will this effect power grids or is it just a light one? Hope we see northern lights!

  • Kyndal

    whats going to happen , like a eclipse ?

  • pkd

    We hear a lot of such astronomical acts and their effects on earth but nothing happens except some hypertensive media hypes.

  • pkd

    nothing new this is happening every moment on sun

  • Anthony Liesenfelder

    Is this the end,and no one is telling the truth??????????????

  • Giselia ❤ JT

    It only affected the polar caps

  • kay

    well it is now 4/14 did anything happen? does this news article have a refresh button?

  • khurram

    It will be more hazardous later on, because a huge storm will come soon and real black out will be there and it will also effect the gravitational pull of our earth…

  • carl

    I dont believe how Un Educated Every one is. Yes there will be problems with the ” GRID” if a MASSIVE CME and or SOLAR FLARE erupts and we are smack dab Ground ZERO, and it is facing DIRECTLY towards the EARTH. These Small ones only disturb the Ions and Geomagnetic field surrounding Earth: ERGO AURORAS, in a Shield that Protects us from those Blasts from Ole Sol. READ up On Earths Magnetic Field, Van Allen Belts, CME, SOLAR Flares, before you all start Running Arround like “Chicken Little” Screaming ” THE SKY IS FALLING” or in this case ” A SOLAR FLARE HAS HAPPENED AND WERE ALL GOING TO DIE!” OMG, KYNDALL an ECLIPSE, REALLY??? KHURRAM, ANTHONNY, COURTNEY, Go back to BASIC EARTH and SPACE Science CLASS and Pay attention! YIKES!

  • casey

    there are supposed to be at least three more other than these this year. Very active this year, the sun that is. Honestly, .. I expect it to get worse and worse for the duration of 500 years, and then it will stop entirely with irregular activity for approximately 10-25,000 years. Leading to the earths regular cycle of ice ages. Don’t worry, the irregularity will persist for the next 500 hundred years, and im afraid only time will prove that, but for the next outstanding, earth conquering ice age, there’s at least 500 years to go to that.

  • qubzy

    @wat speed is it moving towards earth?
    ar we save from emp in nigeria ?
    might as well strellar drive to kepler-62f

  • Caesar

    A scary concept, but it will pass right by us.

    NOT!!!
    WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!
    HSHSHSSHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!1

  • Nathan Bellew

    the solar storm has the potential to knock out power grids and give skin cancer
    no kidding

  • Lincoln De Witt

    Just watched a x1.7 pop off the sun. Scary , but CME is at worst going to glance some time May 15th.
    Just wanted to add to this conversation because of all the misconceptions being told here. There are a lot of reference materials on the Web, but not all of it is accurate. More importantly, the last storm of signifagance was 1856, so we are still in the dark on the actual effect on the Modern Power Grid. Here, educate yourselves. http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/26oct_solarshield/

  • Lincoln De Witt

    Correction: Carington Event was 1859, not ’56

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