On August 1, 2010 cameras aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured an eruption on the sun’s surface that hurled tons of plasma—charged gas—directly towards earth in an event called a coronal mass ejection. Wow, that sounds like it could be painful!
The ionized clouds, which are bursts of charged particles, were expected to reach Earth’s atmosphere, by August 4, 2010 (today!). They may produce especially colorful auroras. Auroras happen when energized particles from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field. The particles flow down the field lines that run toward Earth’s Poles, banging into atoms of atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen along the way.
This eruption, along with a recent flurry of sunspots, seems to be a sign of the sun’s reawakening—good news for aurora fans, but potential trouble for satellites, astronauts, and some technologies here on Earth. Energetic solar storms can disrupt communication and navigation systems, can knock out power grids, and can pose radiation hazards to people working in space.
Word to the wise…keep a low profile today, periodically glance up and keep an eye out for that coronal mass ejection potentially lurking nearby. 😉