Yesterday, NASA spotted an eruption on the sun that is sending a coronal mass ejection (CME) hurtling towards the Earth. The CME, which contains superheated particles that have broken off from the sun, aren't harmful to humans but can still affect electronic systems in Earth's orbit and on the ground. This latest CME, which is hurtling towards Earth at speeds of around 570 miles per second, is expected to reach us within 2-3 days.
Using NASA's Stereo spacecraft and the European Space Agency's Solar Heliospheric Observatory, several stunning photographs of the CME have been captured. These instruments take what are referred to as "coronographs," which block the sun's light with a disk in order to show the sun and the CME activity radiating from its surface.
The solar storm generated by the CME could send its energy into the Earth's magnetosphere, which might affect communication signals from satellites and disrupt power grids. However, NASA expects this particular CME, like most, to be relatively mild, so we probably won't notice it at all. However, this event could increase the auroras, otherwise known as the northern and southern lights. If you are an avid sky watcher, prepare to look up over the next few nights for what could be a beautiful display. You can also sign up at SpaceWeather.com for aurora alerts.
This latest CME is occuring at the peak of the sun's current solar cycle, which happens every 11 years and includes the flipping of the sun's magnetic fields at its poles. This cycle will be the 24th to be observed and recorded by scientists, and has been reported to be the weakest solar cycle in over 100 years.