‘Tis the season…the season for solar activity, that is! Last week was just the beginning, even though it saw some of the most powerful solar flares of the past four years send charged solar particles streaming toward Earth. Luckily our magnetosphere was in such a position to absorb much of it, creating some beautiful aurora for those stationed at points north. Some electromagnetic problems occurred around the globe but, for the most part, it wasn’t too disruptive considering the level of activity the Sun was exhibiting.
Once that particular sunspot region rotated away from direct line-of-sight with Earth we got a look at the next active regions, numbered 1161 and 1162, which sent out their own flares on the 18th and 19th. The animation above was made from SDO images taken with its AIA 131 camera, showing a flash of magnetic energy spreading out between the sunspots in the area. This spans about 40 minutes of actual time with the energy expanding a distance equal to about 20 Earths! Incredible.
These regions on the northern hemisphere of the Sun have since rotated past the direct line of sight with Earth as well, although since solar flares can send out particle clouds that curve and arc through space there is still a danger from M-class outbursts. And there’s another active region currently on the opposite side of the Sun, seen by NASA’s STEREO spacecraft, which is steadily moving into position…it will be facing Earth in about a week. Will that fizzle out or send more flares our way? No way to tell, but with all these eyes on our star we at least have some fair warning!
“We cannot tell if there is going to be a big storm six months from now, but we can tell when conditions are ripe for a storm to take place.”
– Juha-Pekka Luntama, European Space Agency
This is shaping up to be an interesting solar maximum, that’s for sure. Even if we’re lucky enough to avoid any real problems from flares we’ll certainly be getting some amazing views!
Image: NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE and HMI science teams. Edited by J. Major.