A big sunspot unleashed an intense solar flare in the direction of Earth early on Saturday.
NASA confirmed the long-lasting solar flare, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), was produced by the sun at around 2.30am EST on February 9. The flare sparked a violent sun eruption that saw a wave of charged particles hurled at Earth at speeds approaching 1.8 million miles per hour (almost 2.9 million km/h).
Scientists have confirmed the solar storm would not endanger satellites or astronauts in space, yet is likely to amplify auroras on Earth. A NASA statement explained:
“In the past, CMEs at this strength have had little effect. They may cause auroras near the poles but are unlikely to disrupt electrical systems on Earth or interfere with GPS or satellite-based communications systems.”
A CME is a colossal burst of solar wind and magnetic fields that rise above the solar corona before being released into space. These eruptions of charged solar material send solar particles flying out into space.
When aimed at Earth, a CME can take one to three days to reach our planet. They have been known to trigger geomagnetic storms and can also produce spectacular displays of aurorae in the skies.
This latest solar flare and sun eruption was photographed by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a mission operated by NASA and the European Space Agency.
One man who got closer than anybody else to Saturday’s drama was Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Hadfield currently resides on the International Space Station, and took to Twitter to observe:
We live right next to a star. Today it ejected a huge blob at 500 mi/sec. But not to worry – should be good aurorae 🙂 nasa.gov/mission_pages/…
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) February 9, 2013