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Incoming! CME On Its Way Toward Earth

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

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As you read this, a huge cloud of charged solar particles is speeding toward our planet, a coronal mass ejection resulting from the X1.4-class flare that erupted from sunspot 1520 on July 12. The CME is expected to collide with Earth’s magnetic field on Saturday, potentially affecting satellite operations and tripping alarms on power grids, as well as boosting auroral activity. It’s on its way, and all we can do is wait. (Thank goodness for magnetospheres!)

Actually, the effects from the incoming CME aren’t expected to be anything particularly dramatic. NOAA is predicting a geomagnetic storm level raging from G2 to G4, which although ranges from “moderate” to “severe” a G2 (Kp = 6) is most likely, according to Dr. C. Alex Young from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

[Read: What Is a CME?]

“A G2 level storm can cause some power fluctuations that may set off some voltage alarms for power companies,” Dr. Young told Universe Today. “Damage to transformers is possible for longer events, but unlikely. Satellite companies may have to make some orbit corrections for their satellites, and at higher latitudes where there are aurora they can be some disruption of high frequency radio broadcasts.

“All in all the effects should be minor,” he concluded.

And this may not be the last we hear from 1520, either.

“Its complexity has decreased but it is still large and has a ‘delta’ configuration,” added Dr. Young, “when there is opposite polarity magnetic field of the umbra within the penumbra of the sunspot. This is an unstable configuration that is indicative of larger releases of energy, lots of flares — in particular M and X flares.”

Below is a computer model of the CME from Goddard Space Weather Center. Impact with Earth is expected on 7/14 at 10:20 UT (+-7 hrs), 6:20 am EDT.

Auroras may be visible at lower latitudes this weekend, so check the NOAA’s updated auroral oval map to see if visibility extends into your area over the next several nights. Hopefully aurora photographers around the world will be able to get some great photos of a summer sky show!

You can keep up with the latest news on solar activity on Dr. Young’s blog, The Sun Today. And of course, stay tuned to Universe Today for more updates on any noteworthy space weather!

The video below uses SDO AIA footage in 131(teal), 171(gold) and 335 (blue) angstrom wavelengths, and shows the X1.4 class flare erupted from the center of the sun on July 12, 2012 at 12:52 PM EDT. Each wavelength shows different temperature plasma in the sun’s atmosphere. 171 shows 600,000 Kelvin plasma, 335 shows 2.5 million Kelvin plasma, and 131 shows 10 million Kelvin plasma. The final shot is a composite of 171 and 335 angstrom footage.

Top image: illustration of a CME about to impact Earth’s magnetosphere (NASA). Model animation: NASA/GSFC. Video courtesy NASA/SDO and the AIA science team.

UPDATE: The CME took a bit longer to arrive than expected, but impact with Earth’s magnetic field was detected at around 1800 UT (11 a.m. PDT/2 p.m. EDT), activating a geomagnetic storm. According to SpaceWeather.com: At the moment, conditions appear favorable for auroras over high-latitude places such as Canada, Scandinavia, Antarctica and Siberia. It is too early to say whether the storm will intensify and bring auroras to middle latitudes as well.

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Photon Capturer
Guest
Photon Capturer
July 13, 2012 11:43 PM

Has anyone heard about the effect this might have on Mars Science Lab?

Jason Major
Guest
July 13, 2012 11:58 PM

MSL encountered a CME back at the end of January and while it registered the event, it was unharmed. Likely it will ride this one through ok as well. http://www.astronomy.com/~/link.aspx?_id=478cfb69-5b2c-4018-aaea-c0d53f19e609

Bobr
Member
Bobr
July 13, 2012 6:56 PM

Perhaps one of these times my wish will be fulfilled and all the text messaging services will be selectively wiped out by a CME.
Then this plugged-in-and-entitled generation will lift their heads from the text screens, go outside and discover that there is a real and beautiful world as Pastoral Symphony (Beethoven’s 6th) plays in the background.


(Brilliantly illustrated by Matt Groening).

Note to expected backlashers – you won’t say anything new that my daughter hasn’t already expressed to me for this wish! wink

Super Earth
Member
Super Earth
July 14, 2012 12:51 AM
Thank goodness for magnetospheres! Are scientists really sure of that? Couldn’t be that the magnetosphere just concentrates the CME over the Polar Latitudes like a magnet concentrates metallic iron dust on its poles, so that it provides no protection for the whole planet, shielding the low latitudes and making things worse for the Polar Regions? There is also the hypothesis that magnetospheres shield the planets from the solar wind, preventing atmospheric erosion that otherwise would lead to a super-thin and cold atmosphere like on Mars. But VENUS has no magnetic field, yet it has the thickest atmosphere of the solar system rocky planets (is 90 times more thick than Earth’s atmosphere!). This article summarizes the skepticism that the… Read more »
Jason Major
Guest
July 14, 2012 2:33 AM

That first article discusses the importance of the magnetosphere against the loss of a planet’s atmosphere and water, about which the jury is still out. As far as protection against solar wind, well, I’m not sure I’d want to be walking around on a magnetosphere-less planet when the solar storms come rolling in.

Super Earth
Member
Super Earth
July 14, 2012 2:40 AM

Could it not being just like being in the Arctic Circle here on Earth during a solar storm, that is, just seeing a wonderful spectacle of auroras in the sky?
(with the difference that those would apperar in the equator)

Jason Major
Guest
July 14, 2012 4:04 AM

Without a magnetosphere there’d be no aurorae in the sky

Super Earth
Member
Super Earth
July 14, 2012 5:03 AM

What would be perceived of the solar wind/CME in the surface of a magnetosphere-less terrestrial planet?
What harm could it do?

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
July 14, 2012 1:05 PM
CMEs interact with the chemistry of planetary atmospheres. In the case of Venus and Earth, which in terms of mass and gravity are roughly comparable, clearly the respective evolution of conditions there lead to very different outcomes. It might be argued that Venus has no tectonic activity, which then lead to these conditions. However, tectonic activity is thought to require water as the lubrication for the motion of tectonic plates over each other. In fact most plate boundaries involve at least on basaltic plate under the ocean. So maybe the chemical changes CME induced on the early Venusian atmosphere prevented the long term duration of oceans. Whether CMEs over time physically dislodge an atmosphere from a planet may… Read more »
postman1
Member
postman1
July 14, 2012 2:29 AM

A world wide massive EMP taking out most communications, TV, telephones and internet for at least a year, possibly up to a decade. What a different world that would leave. Back to the basics and the end of the welfare state.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
July 14, 2012 11:10 AM

Can’t happen on a global scale.
And in addition, look how many Americans were without power for a very long time. WW III did not happen, massive rots did not happen, economics did not happen.

Wezley Jackson
Guest
July 14, 2012 3:31 AM
Good to see some people at least talking openly about the potential dangers (in addition to alarm bell ringers like scientist Bill Murtagh at NOAA). zhank and danangel, I think its pretty unrealistic to think there would be much selective positive effects (ie. some return to good ol fashioned society), I think depending on the severity of the HILF (High Impact Low Probability) event, all stratums of society could be very seriously effected. I dont want to spell out the details but the worse case scenario is frightening indeed – stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel going critical because of fuel supply interruption (cooling systems dependent on backup generators and fuel supply interrupted by infrastructure dependent on the grid… Read more »
melanie zuniga
Guest
melanie zuniga
July 14, 2012 4:05 AM

But when will this happen ? cause i really want to see some real action .Like at Dawn or what ?

melanie zuniga
Guest
melanie zuniga
July 14, 2012 4:07 AM

someone tell me what time it might hit !!!!! I just berely found out about this

melanie zuniga
Guest
melanie zuniga
July 14, 2012 4:08 AM

Hurryyyyy!!!!!!!! or did it already hit!!!!????!!!!!??!?!!?!

Devi L
Guest
Devi L
July 14, 2012 4:38 AM

well, i am GMT -5 eastern time U.S. and should be 6:20a.m. here

Marshall Warren
Guest
July 14, 2012 6:24 AM

lmao, i love seeing this comment among the rest

dfadsfas
Guest
dfadsfas
July 15, 2012 9:14 PM

“Plugged-in-and-entitled generation” .. I’m 20, I read scientific news, go outside, listen to classic music. But thanks for generalizing an entire generation without a hint of irony while using the internet, I think I see who the real entitled one is here.

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