Astronomers have observed a massive solar explosion, but are not sure if it is heading towards Earth. newsweek informed of.
Over the past few weeks, there has been some interesting activity in the solar surface. Sunspot AR3038, which is facing Earth and was expected to die, has instead grown and is now three times the size of Earth. Astronomers are waiting for solar flares to erupt from this sunspot.
However, what has happened instead is a coronal mass ejection, or CME, which is much more powerful than a solar flare because it is filled with a large amount of plasma and magnetic flux. The only issue is that the CME Sunspot is not from the AR3038. Instead, astronomers don’t really know where it came from.
How do we know if someone had a CME?
The explosion was observed on Sunday by a CME spotting software from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Computer Aided CME Tracking (CACTus) tool. According to the tool’s website, the algorithm works autonomously. It uses data from the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment (LASCO), a collaboration between ESA and NASA, to study the Sun.
Because the CME’s list of CACTS is generated automatically, astronomers use other Sun-observing instruments to confirm the events. One such instrument is NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which also brought us images of sunspot AR 3038 last week.
Unfortunately, widespread power outages at Stanford University, where SDO’s equipment stores data, have been unavailable. This has made it difficult to ascertain the exact location of the CME explosion and whether it is moving towards Earth.
what happens next?
Unlike solar flares, which can cause radio blackouts of short duration, CMEs can cause massive outages because the magnetic forces in the eruption interact with Earth’s own magnetic field.
A geomagnetic storm caused by a CME can cause an entire electrical grid to collapse and interfere with radio communications for days. The shipping system can be majorly affected even after high energy CMEs. Fortunately, these storms rarely occur.
Solar flames travel rapidly and, if directed toward Earth, in minutes. A CME, however, may take a few days to hit Earth. Therefore, the eruption seen on the solar surface on Sunday could reach Earth by June 28 or June 29, astronomers told Newsweek.
With SDO offline, astronomers now need to look at other coronagraph-capable instruments to determine whether the explosion is headed toward Earth. Factors such as the position of these instruments can significantly affect the calculations performed with these instruments.
The only consolation that astronomers now have is that even though the CME is directed toward Earth, it may not be powerful enough to cause widespread outrage. However, it does emphasize how important equipment needs to be online at all times, because you never know when a solar storm could hit you.
With the Sun now in an active phase of its solar cycle, the less downtime we have, the better prepared we are.