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X Class solar flare could produce bright aurora

Two CME’s (Coronal Mass Ejections) from the sun during the last two days have astronomers brimming with excitement. And although the details aren’t totally certain, the earth-directed nature and magnitude of the solar flares have photographers racing for their cameras in hopes of capturing the elusive aurora borealis.

At 1:45pm today, an X-Class (strongest level) solar flare occurred — right on the heels of an M Class flare from Tuesday. Sunspot AR2158 is the culprit. A geomagnetic storm watch has been issued as a result of the Tuesday ejection from the sun. That  flare, despite being weaker than Wednesdays, was long duration — lasting almost 6 hours. During the last few weeks, multiple weaker CME’s have produced auroras throughout the world. The incoming aurora could be brighter, last longer, and extend farther south from the poles than its predecessor.

The Space Weather Prediction Center suggests that Fridays storm ( as a result of Tuesday’s M CLass CME) will be moderate (G2) on a scale from G1 to G5. The latest space weather models predict a reasonable chance that aurora could extend as far south as the Northern tier of the US. But much of that will come down to what we experience as the storm finally reaches earth, and models get a better idea as to how exactly the geomagnetic storm will act.

More concerningly, the X Class solar flare is rapidly heading toward Earth from 1:45pm today — and its position leaves much of North America at risk for prolonged radio blackouts. It remains unclear exactly how the storm will impact earth in terms of aurora potential — but X Class flares have historically produced some of the brightest auroras on record.

GOES X-Ray data showing both solar flares from the last 24+ hours. The M Class flare is farther left, while the X Class flare is farther right.

GOES X-Ray data showing both solar flares from the last 24+ hours. The M Class flare is farther left, while the X Class flare is farther right.

Regarding today’s X Class Flare, the Space Weather Prediction Center noted the concerns:

Active Region 2158, now near center disk, produced a X1 (NOAA Scale R3- Strong) solar flare today at 10/1745 UTC. Impacts to HF radio communications on the daylight side of Earth are expected to last for more than an hour. Initial information suggests that CME is likely associated with this event, but further analysis is underway at this time.

Data from SWPC showing potential for high frequency radio blackouts across much of North America as a result of the X Class CME.

Data from SWPC showing potential for high frequency radio blackouts across much of North America as a result of the X Class CME.

Over the next several hours and into Thursday, we should begin to get a much better idea as to how both of these CME’s will behave as they near earth. This includes details on the timing of their arrival, the impacts in regards to the high frequency radio blackouts/other effects, and the aurora potential extent.

These CME’s aren’t necessarily a threat to you — there won’t be any phyiscal harm — but they may impact radio blackouts on Earth as well as beautiful Aurora Borealis in the night sky, especially in the northern latitudes.

For more information on the solar flares, stay tuned for updates to this article — and reference the Space Weather Prediction Center

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