Solar Explosion!

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Early this morning – at around 2am EDT – the Sun’s southern hemisphere belched out a truly gigantic plume of material, insofar as I have never seen anything like it in any of the images or videos captured by SDO to date! This really is the definition of solar maximum!

“The Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare with a substantial coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7 that is visually spectacular. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface.”

– SDO science team

The video above was made by recording screen video directly from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory site, after loading the high-res images from today onto the screen. The first half is the speed at which the video played on the site, the second is stepped frame-by-frame manually by me.

Massive coronal mass ejection on June 7, 2011. This image shows the size of the Earth to scale. NASA / SDO / J. Major.

It’s amazing to see all that solar material flung out into space to then fall back down onto the Sun, looking like nothing less than a giant splash! The Sun isn’t a liquid, but it sure seems like it when watching this!

Although it was initially thought that this mass ejection wouldn’t affect Earth, the National Weather Service has since issued a warning about increasing geomagnetic activity tomorrow:

A dramatic eruption from an otherwise unimpressive NOAA Region 1226 earlier today is expected to cause G1 (minor) to G2 (moderate) levels of geomagnetic storm activity tomorrow, June 8, beginning around 1800 UTC with the passage of a fast CME. A prompt Solar Radiation Storm reached the S1 (minor) level soon after the impulsive R1 (minor) Radio Blackout at 0641 UTC. The Solar Radiation Storm includes a significant contribution of high energy (>100 MeV) protons, the first such occurrence of an event of that type since December 2006.

Incredible! Luckily it wasn’t pointed directly at Earth – we’ll likely be encountering the huge cloud of charged particles at a glancing angle. Still, we can expect some very pretty auroral activity over the next couple of nights in the upper latitudes.

You can read more about this in a Universe Today article by Nancy Atkinson.

Video / image credit: NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams.