IMG src: thestar.com
By, Alex Knapp, Forbes Staff
NASA reports that two massive solar flares erupted from the Sun yesterday, each paired with a Coronal Mass Ejection. The two CMEs are heading towards Earth and are expected to hit in the wee hours of the morning on March 8. The first CME is travelling towards Earth at speeds greater than 1300 miles per second, and the second is travelling at about 1100 miles per second. The sun is surrounded by intense magnetic fields, which is also known as its corona. Within the corona, occasionally two magnetic fields with opposite poles will come close to each other. When that happens, just like in magnets you might have at home, they will attract each other and connect. When that connection occurs, it releases huge amounts of energy, causing the Sun to eject tons of particles in the form of plasma. That’s the Coronal Mass Ejection. CMEs are often, but not always, accompanied by solar flares, which are huge ejections of radiation from the Sun. One of the two flares that erupted yesterday was classed as a X5.4 – making it the second largest solar flare in the current solar cycle. The largest in this cycle erupted last summer.This afternoon, NASA estimated that the CMEs will collide with Earth at around 1:25 AM EST on the morning of March 8. When it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field, it will cause radioactive disruptions. Those disruptions, NASA warns, could affect high-frequency communications, interfere with GPS satellites, and could also potentially disrupt power grids. It should also create some stunning aurorae that might be visible in places that normally don’t get them.
These types of flares aren’t the end of the world – bigger solar events have hit the Earth in recent years, and the harms are usually minor. There is a possibility that a powerful solar flare could cause serious harm to satellites, but such potential events are pretty rare. So if you’re out and around the time the CMEs hit, you might be lucky enough to catch an aurora, and you might not be able to post your location on Foursquare. But otherwise, life should go on pretty much as normal.
NASA has also produced a gorgeous video of the flare, which I’ve embedded below: