I hope they don’t mind if I use this picture, but I thought it was interesting.
See how small the Earth is compared to a sunspot.
Here is a picture of the whole region.
And a warning.
That region is pretty feisty, and the odds of us getting more flares from those spots are pretty good. The Sun’s rotation is currently taking them toward the center of the disk, where a good sized explosion is then directed toward us, and particle waves from the blast can then interact more efficiently with our magnetic field. We may be getting aurorae from them, and if things go well that’s all we’ll get! A big blast can damage satellites, and even put astronauts on the ISS at risk. We on the ground are pretty safe, since the Earth’s air absorbs the radiation — that’s why we have to launch satellites like SDO into space, so they can detect that energy in the first place!
However, a big blast can shake the Earth’s magnetic field, inducing a current in the ground that can actually overload power lines. We can get blackouts from such things, and it’s happened before. This is a real problem that can do millions or even billions of dollars of infrastructure damage (including money in the economy lost during the blackout). I know a lot of solar physicists are concerned about this eventuality, and are trying to get both the power companies and the government to take it seriously. I hope they do. We’re still approaching the peak of the solar cycle sometime in mid-2013 or so, and flares like the one Saturday will most likely be more common.
Although, I am actually glad the Sun is getting more active. There were practically no sunspots during the period known as the Maunder Minimum, from 1645-1715, which coincided with the Little Ice Age. This last solar cycle, the Sun seemed to be a little too quiet and there was some speculation that we might be entering into another minimum.
Here is a chart of sunspot activity over the last few centuries. It is probably a better indicator of global climate changes than human carbon emissions, but don’t tell Al Gore that.
A sunspot, 62,000 miles across – so big it would dwarf the Earth – is releasing gigantic solar flares that could in theory wreak havoc with electrical communications ranging from handheld electronics such as iPhones to sections of the power grid.
Nasa has detected two X-class solar eruptions from 1302 – the most extreme possible – in the past week. One that occurred on September 24 produced an amazing light show over England last night – but it’s far from over, as the sunspot isn’t yet directly aligned with Earth.
NASA experts have said ‘anything electrical’ can be affected by such activity.
Known as ‘Active Region 1302’, it is producing bursts of radiation so intense that spectacular auroras, caused by the sun’s particles hitting the atmosphere, have been seen as far south as Oxfordshire.
Astronomer Dr Ian Griffin, CEO of Science Oxford, told MailOnline: ‘Active Region 1302 is the source of all of the auroras seen yesterday, and may well be the source of some more auroras over the next few nights.
Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, in some cases even shocking telegraph operators.Telegraph pylons threw sparks and telegraph paper spontaneously caught fire. Some telegraph systems appeared to continue to send and receive messages despite having been disconnected from their power supplies.
Just think of the havoc a storm like that could wreak today with all the electronics that we depend upon. This could be the end of civilization.
On the other hand, I’ve never seen the Northern Lights before. It would be really cool to see them as far south as Indiana.