Weekly Solar Image 09-02-12

Sorry for my lack of weekly solar images. But luckily I am back and have some images to share of the sun today.

On August 31st sunspot 1560 released a coronal mass ejection resulting in a C-8 solar flare. The CME released by 1560 isn’t exactly Earth directed, but it should deliver a glancing blow to our planets magnetic field. 1560 has quadrupled in size over the last few days, and NOAA forecasts a 40% chance for M-class flares from this sunspot.

Sunspots: 1563, 1564, 1562, 1560, 1553

1560 is the chain of sunspots near the center of the sun in the image above. 1562, 1563, and 1564 are the cluster of sunspots to the left side of the sun; 1553 is the small sunspot on the lower right just about to pass along the limb and disappear out of our view from Earth. The above image is 53 images stacked in Registax and edited in Photoshop.

Sunspot 1560

Above is a closeup view of sunspot 1560. This image is 20 images stacked in Registax and edited in Photoshop. Again, it’s very hard to achieve a sharp focus with the setup I’m using to zoom in on this sunspot. Using the Canon 350D and the 1.25″ Orion Variable Universal Camera Adapter.

Powerful M9-Class Solar Flare Heading Towards Earth

The strongest Solar Radiation Storm since May of 2005 is under way. The sun unleashed a powerful M9-class solar flare from sunspot 1402 on January 22nd around 11:00pm EST, and the flare is heading towards Earth.

Latest GOES-15 Image.
M9-Class Solar Flare from NASAs Solar Dynamics Observatory.
A computer model by the NOAA predicts the Coronal Mass Ejection will reach Earth by around 9:00am EST (+/- 7 hours) traveling at a speed of approximately 1,367 miles per second.
Solar Wind Prediction from NOAAs Space Weather Prediction Center.
These kind of storms can affect satellites in¬†geosynchronous, polar and other orbits. Sky watchers in higher than normal latitudes should be on the lookout for aurora. If you have clear skies, this may be a great chance to get out and see the aurora for yourself. Looking at the weather predictions for Plattsburgh, NY it’s looking like we’re clouded in the next few nights, so there is a very slim chance I will get to see it.

Tonight May Be Better For Aurora

It seems last nights aurora turned out to be a dud. Me and a few other people were chatting throughout the night on twitter. A couple people out with cameras attempting to get some hints of Aurora with no luck. Today I woke up and see that the planetary Kp number has been between 4 and 5Kp which 5Kp is a good number for us here in the Adirondacks, and a 6Kp would be even better.

CME coming from the sunspots above. Image from SpaceWeather.com

So tonight if you have clear skies and a view north you may want to give watching for the aurora another shot. I will be updating with the most recent Kp levels via my twitter name @AdirondackAstro or if you don’t have twitter you can check my twitter updates to the right.

This image of the Auroral Oval should be (hopefully) updated throughout the night. Not sure how this works, I’m doing a direct link and not quite sure if it will update here along with the site I’m getting it from.

Coronal Mass Ejection Heading Towards Earth

Expected to hit Earth sometime on Saturday evening (January 21st) the sun has unleashed an M3-class solar flare and a full-halo coronal mass ejection. Strong geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud arrives this weekend. The blast is from an active earth facing sunspot 1401.

Image from SpaceWeather.com.

Tomorrow night (Saturday night) could be a great night to get out and aim your camera (or even your eyeballs) North for a view of the Aurora. People in high Latitude and possibly mid latitude could see this blast.

If you can’t see it with your naked eye, try aiming your camera north with a 15-30 second exposure time, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean you won’t get some good pictures of it. If you get out and get any images of it I would love to see your results. Feel free to e-mail me your images at adirondackastronomer@gmail.com.

Images from SpaceWeather.com

Solar Maximum in 2012

Well I didn’t make a post about the solar flare on February 14th, but it’s not going to be the last one. Actually the sun has been “hibernating” for the past 4 or 5 years show very little to no activity as far as solar storms go. The solar flare on the 14th of February was the first X-class flare in four years, it was big enough to interfere with radio communications and GPS signals for airplanes.

As far as solar storms go the one that happened on Valentine’s day was actually quite modest, but it’s just the beginning of what is to come in the upcoming solar maximum, due to peak in the next couple years. The sun has been quiet the last couple years, but according to Tom bogdan the director of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado “The sun has an activty cycle, much like hurricane season, it’s been hibernating for four or five years, not doing much of anything.” Although the upcoming solar maximum could see a record low in it’s overall activity, the individual events could be quite powerful.

In 1859 the biggest solar storm on record happened during a solar maximum about the same size as the one we’re entering, according to NASA. The storm in 1859 has been dubbed the Carrington Even, after British astronomer Richard Carrinton. Carrington witnessed the megaflare and was the first to realize a link between the geomagnetic disturbances on earth and the activity on the sun. The storm was so huge reports of the northern lights were reported as far south as Cuba and Honolulu, while the southern lights were reported as far north as Santiago, Chile. The flares were so big in 1859 it is reported that people were able to read newspaper print from the light of the aurora in the Northeastern U.S.

Valentine's Day, Aurora, Sweden, Northern LightsThe northern lights seen from Sweden’s Abisko National Park on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14, 2011). Credit to: National Geographic

In 1859 there wasn’t a whole lot of damage the solar storms could have done to civilization here on Earth, but if the solar maximum coming up is anything like that one we could see the world’s high-tech infrastructure grind to a halt. “What’s at stake,” the Space Weather Prediction Center’s Bogdan said, “are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives.”

Solar storms come in three stages, not all of which occur in every storm.
First, high-energy sunlight, mostly x-rays and ultraviolet light, ionizes Earth’s upper atmosphere, which in turn interferes with radio communications.
Next comes a radiation storm, which could potentially be dangerous to unprotected astronauts.
Finally, a coronal mass ejection, also known as a CME. A CME is a slower moving cloud of charged particles which takes a few days to finally reach Earth’s atmosphere after leaving the sun. The beautiful aurora’s you have seen pictures of, or possibly viewed with your own eyes is caused by these CME’s. Of course the beautiful aurora caused by CME’s can also damage sensitive electronic systems common in telecommunications satellites, or even knock out power grids on Earth.

If these storms hit Earth we could see quite an affect, just think about everything you do with todays technology, such as buying something with your credit card. You swipe that card and it’s a satellite transaction, if the satellite’s are down then your credit cards will not work. If the solar particles knock out giant transformers it could take quite a long time to repair, especially if there are hundreds all destroyed at once.

I love a good doomsday story, but unfortunately this is not a conspiracy, it is a real possibility. I’m not saying we need to create bomb shelters and stock up on canned goods, but it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared. We depend on a lot of technology that could possibly get knocked out by a solar storm this size. Even if it’s not as big as the Carrington Event of 1859, we could still see some damage done to our power grid. In 2003 there was a solar storm dubbed the “Halloween storms” which briefly knocked out power in Sweden and lit up the skies as far south as Florida and Texas.

In 2006 NASA put out a Solar Storm Warning to start taking place sometime between 2010 and 2012.

Resource for information “What If The Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today” at National Geographic.