One of the most powerful solar storms in the last five years was unleashed May 6th after a massive solar flare erupted from the sun. Space weather scientists are closely watching the sun’s activity as the storm could interfere with satellite communication and power grids.
Joseph Kunches, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said:
“Space weather has gotten very interesting over the last 24 hours… When the shock arrives, the expectation is for heightened geomagnetic storm activity and the potential for heightened solar radiation… There is the potential for induced currents in power grids… Power grid operators have all been alerted. It could start to cause some unwanted induced currents.”
NASA captured a video of the solar flare (below) as it erupted and hurled a “big blob of magnetized material” toward the earth. The AR1429 sunspot region shout off a solar flare on Sunday and two more yesterday. The AR1429 region is currently pointing almost directly at earth which means that the coronal mass ejection could have a big impact on earth.
Harlan Spence, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire, told SPACE.com:
“The sun is waking up at a time in the month when Earth is coming into harm’s way. Think of these CMEs somewhat like a bullet that is shot from the sun in more or less a straight line. When the sunspot is right in the middle of the sun, something launched from there is more or less directed right at Earth. It’s kind of like how getting sideswiped by a car is different than a head-on collision. Even still, being sideswiped by a big CME can be quite dramatic.”
The New York Times reports that the coronal mass ejection will hit earth at about 1:30 a.m on Thursday morning.
Type C CME detected by STEREO A COR2 and STEREO B COR2
Start time of the event: 2012-05-08T10:39Z.
Estimated speed: ~ 622 km/s.
Estimated opening half-angle: 37 deg.
Direction (lon./lat.): -7/18 in Heliocentric Earth Ecliptic coordinates.
Based on preliminary heliospheric modeling carried out at NASA Space Weather Center, it is estimated that the CME may impact Earth.
Simulations indicate that the leading edge of the CME will reach Earth at about 2012-05-11T00:41Z (plus minus 7 hours). The roughly estimated expected range of the Kp index is 3-5 (minor).
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture of the opening on May 8th: