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Solar blast heading Earth's way
Total solar eclipse awaited
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Cape Town - The shower of ionised atoms, or plasma, set to strike the Earth this week after Sunday’s “solar tsunami” eruption of plasma on the surface of the sun will lead to spectacular light displays in the night skies, mainly in the northern hemisphere.
Earth orbiting satellites detected that nearly the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted on Sunday in a series of C-class solar flares, propelling one or possibly two coral mass ejections (CMEs) towards earth.
The solar flares may not have noticeable consequences on Earth aside from auroras being visible further south than usual.
The CME clouds, usually emitted from the sun over several hours, can carry up to 10 billion tons of plasma. They usually move away from the sun at about 1.6 million km/h, allowing them to travel 150 million km to Earth in only three to four days, according to a Nasa press release.
Once they arrive at the Earth, they interact with the planet’s magnetic field, which may lead to a geomagnetic storm.
According to a report in National Geographic News, auroras happen when energised 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.
The charged solar particles give Earth's atmospheric atoms an energy boost, which then gets released as light, producing the shimmering curtains of greens, reds, and other colours.
There is a chance it'll produce especially colourful auroras this week - probably greens and reds.
In the Northern Hemisphere, auroras are more commonly seen at high latitudes, such as the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia.
But explosions like the one on Sunday can spark geomagnetic storms that bring the show to slightly lower parts of the globe. These storms can also add a rippling effect to the sometimes static auroras.
The on-coming solar storm is yet another indicator that the sun's activity is picking up after an unusually long lull, astronomers say.
Solar activity rises and falls on a regular cycle of about 11 years. The last period of peak activity ended in 2001, and it led into a long-lasting quiet spell.
Along with a recent flurry of sunspots, Sunday's eruption seems to be a sign that the sun is waking up.
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.
This week's storm is relatively slow, which means it's unlikely to have many negative impacts, but future storms may impact especially communications.