Monster Prominence

Yesterday (Feb. 24, 2011), a rather large flare (M 3.6 class coronal mass ejection) occurred near the edge of the Sun. It blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period . In the words of to the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.

Per usual, this video is also best enjoyed full screen.

Silver Lining

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) here in Boulder, Colorado has issued an alert. The alert states that recently there have been large solar explosions (coronal mass ejections is what the scientists call them) on the sun. These flares are creating large x-ray bursts. The SEC (Space Environment Center) issues alerts at the M5 (5x10E-5 Watts/m2) and X1 (1x10E-4 Watts/m2) levels. As you can see here, this has happened three times in the past two days. Below is a photo of one of todays flares. Here is a great video (mpeg), constantly updated, of the sun’s activity.

There have been over 18 alerts given by the SEC during the last two days for large x-ray and radio-wave bursts. Strong solar radio bursts (those M5 and greater) may cause major disruptions in satellite and other spacecraft operations, power systems (thus knocking out electric power), high frequency communications, and navigation systems. High altitude aircraft crews and passengers on polar routs are also susceptible to radiation hazards during similar events. However, there is one cool bonus effect of coronal mass ejections… the northern lights become much more spectacular and even visible from the northern US.