ISS Crew Heads Home As Sun Spits In Earth’s General Direction

ISS crew on way home as sun "spits" toward earth

The International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 34 crew headed by Commander Kevin Ford is scheduled to undock at 7:43 PM EDT Friday night, so that the crew of three can head back to Earth on their Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft. NASA announced that the crew will be landing a bit after 11 EDT in Kazakhstan. You can watch live streaming coverage of the event at their website starting at 9:45 PM.

The first Canadian commander of an ISS mission, Chris Hadfield, officially took over as head of Expedition 35 on Wednesday. The Expedition 34 crew had originally been scheduled to depart on Thursday, but they were delayed by possible bad weather on the ground in Kazakhstan.

What won’t delay them is the colorful “spit” that the sun ejected in the direction of Earth this morning. NASA said that the series of photos were taken around 3 AM to track the coronal mass ejection (CME) stream of particles that the sun spat our way. Although the CMEs left the sun at a speed of about 900 miles per second, they are not considered solar flares and they are not expected to cause any problems for the International Space Station crews.

So if a CME is not a solar flare, what is it? According to Christopher Crockett for EarthSky, they are powerful eruptions of superheated gas that are “caused by instabilities in the sun’s magnetic field, [allowing them to] launch a billion tons of superheated gas into space at over one million miles per hour.”

That might sound dangerous, but the sun is very large, and most of the time it spits in a direction that doesn’t go anywhere near the planet. And, of course, even if does come our way, it doesn’t always eject enough particles to interfere with Earth (or satellite) communications.

There’s “only minor particle radiation associated with this event,” NASA explained. In other words, this one is just for pretty.

Will you be watching NASA’s coverage of the International Space Station crew’s return home tonight?

a january double coronal mass ejection

[solar photos ESA&NASA/SOHO]