Massive solar eruption may be heading our way, so how worried should you be?
Astronomers have observed a significant outburst of solar material, but they are unsure if it is traveling towards Earth. The coronal mass ejection (CME), which caused the eruption, was observed on Sunday, June 26. The outburst was seen erupting from the sun's surface in the early morning hours in coronagraph images - images of the sun's atmosphere - posted online by the CACTUS program of the European Space Agency, which is used to detect CMEs.
The CME had a "very large angular width," according to Judith de Patoul, a space weather forecaster at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, who also tweeted, "Is this CME Earth-directed?" On Monday, a message was posted on SpaceWeather.com that read, "The strange thing is, analysts aren't certain which side of the sun it came from. Some clues suggest farside, others Earthside. If it is an Earthside event, it could reach us late on June 28th or June 29th."
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Massive solar storm could hit Earth in days and impact power grids, communications
It is critical for space weather researchers to know whether or not solar ejections are coming towards Earth since they could have an impact on modern technologies. According to NASA, solar flares resemble the muzzle flash of a cannon, a burst of light that travels to Earth in a matter of minutes and delivers high-energy particles that interact with our atmosphere. CMEs are the cannonball if solar flares are the flash - except that the projectile is a huge plasma and magnetic field cloud.
🌞💥💨 A halo Coronal Mass Ejection with a very large angular width was detected today by Cactus Tool (https://t.co/jujCXjpueR)— Judith de Patoul (@judithdepatoul) June 26, 2022
Is this CME 🌎-directed❓
While we do not have SDO/AIA imagery due to a power outage, we do have PROBA2/SWAP images 🙂
Particularly, CMEs can interact with Earth's magnetic field to create a geomagnetic storm, which can have an impact on voltage control systems and navigation networks. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, potent CMEs may result in radio communication interference for days and the collapse of entire grid systems. Fortunately, storms this powerful are quite uncommon.
Since CMEs can take several days to get from the sun to our planet, it is possible to prepare for them. Scientists aren't entirely sure what's going on with Sunday's CME since, despite the fact that ESA detectors identified it, there isn't enough information to determine which direction it was facing.
Normally, researchers may seek more information from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). However, due to a massive power outage impacting the Stanford University campus, where SDO's data center is situated, important SDO solar instruments are temporarily inaccessible.
"From a coronagraph alone, there's some ambiguity about whether a CME is heading directly towards or away from Earth. The Solar Dynamics Observatory enables us to look for signatures on the near-side of the Sun and break that ambiguity. With those data currently unavailable, that's become more difficult," Matthew Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading told Newsweek.
Owens claims that there are more equipment that can be used to determine which direction the CME is moving, such as coronagraph data from two different spacecraft to produce a stereo effect. However, the placement of the devices affects how well this strategy works. Even if scientists are unable to determine whether the CME is moving towards Earth, it is doubtful that it would cause a geomagnetic storm that will cause significant disruption.