On September 16, a massive solar event occurred that’s worth talking about. A solar filament, erupts out from the sun, sending a huge plume of plasma, a coronal mass ejection (CME), our way!
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared a G2-class moderate geomagnetic storm watch for September 19. This event is expected to intensify auroral displays, similar to a recent event that produced auroras visible as far south as Colorado and Missouri.
Noted solar physicist Keith Strong described it as the largest filament eruption he’s observed in over 50 years. CMEs can affect our day-to-day life here on Earth. Let’s dive in to know more!
The Powerful Solar Eruption
To understand why we should care, let’s first get a grasp on what happened. CMEs are like solar explosions, sending material from the sun’s outer layer zooming into space. When directed at Earth, this material can interact with our planet’s magnetic field, sometimes creating geomagnetic storms, which is why space policy plays a critical role in safeguarding our technological infrastructure.
Following this recent outburst, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) felt the need to issue a heads-up in the form of a G2-class moderate geomagnetic storm watch. They’re keeping an eye on this and effects are expected to reach Earth on September 19.
“These interactions between CMEs and dust were theorized two decades ago, but had not been observed until Parker Solar Probe viewed a CME act like a vacuum cleaner, clearing the dust out of its path,” says an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Guillermo Stenborg.
Another first! Our Parker Solar Probe flew through an eruption from the Sun, and saw it “vacuuming up” space dust left over from the formation of the solar system. It's giving @NASASun scientists a better look at space weather and its potential effects on Earth.… pic.twitter.com/AcwLXOlI6m— NASA (@NASA) September 18, 2023
The Good and the Not-So-Good News
For those who love watching the night sky, there’s a silver lining. This solar event might lead to a fantastic light show, auroras, possibly visible even in places like Colorado and Missouri.
But it’s not all about pretty lights. These geomagnetic storms, categorized by NOAA from G1 to G5 based on their intensity, can mess with our tech. The expected G2 storm can potentially disrupt HF (high frequency) radio communications for a while, and might even throw off some navigation signals. Not catastrophic, but definitely something to be aware of.
A Peek into the Bigger Picture
To give an idea of the scale of this eruption, solar physicist Keith Strong, who has been observing the sun for over 50 years, voiced his astonishment on X (the platform once known as Twitter). He termed it the most massive filament eruption he’s ever seen.
“THE BIGGEST ERUPTION I HAVE EVER SEEN! I have been observing the sun professionally for over 50 years and this is the largest filament eruption I have seen,” says the solar physicist, Keith Strong.
THE BIGGEST ERUPTION I HAVE EVER SEEN! I have been observing the Sun professionally for over 50 years and this is the largest filament eruption I have seen. Note it covers over half the Sun, compare it to the size of the Earth (inset) but amazingly it did not produce a big flare. pic.twitter.com/RgplcTy0Ap— Keith Strong (@drkstrong) September 17, 2023
And as it turns out, we can expect more of such solar shows. The sun has its own rhythm, peaking in activity every 11 years. We’re heading towards one of those peaks, expected in 2025. So, while the sun might seem constant, it’s got its own set of moods.
Space never fails to surprise and humble us. As we live our busy lives, events like this CME serve as a reminder of the broader universe we’re a tiny part of. It’s fascinating, sometimes challenging, but always worth paying attention to. After all, the next big cosmic show might just be around the corner. So, keep looking up!