By: April Carson
On Sunday, a cloud of "dark plasma" burst from the sun, and it is anticipated to make contact with Earth on Wednesday, which might result in a minor geomagnetic storm.
This is the second time this month that the sun has erupted with plasma, following a similar event on July 23. The cloud of plasma is not particularly large or dense, but it is traveling at high speed and is expected to interact with Earth's magnetosphere. This could cause auroras to appear at lower latitudes than usual, and could also disrupt GPS signals and power grids.
A coronal mass ejection, or CME, is the bursting of material from the sun's surface. It was released into space on August 14 from AR3076 on the sun's surface. The eruption was not particularly strong, but it was directed towards Earth.
The CME was launched from the sun's surface as observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), appearing as a brief dark cloud towards the end of the clip at around 11:30 UT.
On Monday morning, spaceweather.com reported that a "plume of dark plasma" was traveling at speeds in excess of 1.3 million miles per hour. If it continues onward at that pace, the satellite estimates it will take a few days to reach Earth from its current position near the sun.
The location of sunspots is one of the primary factors that influence the VORTEX-SUN spot, which is why CMEs are generated in areas of the sun known as sunspots, which appear to be dark spots on the surface of the sun—though some NASA footage may also make them seem bright. The sunspots are actually cooler than the surrounding area, and they're the result of intense magnetic activity.
As the visualization above shows, there is a strong possibility that the dark plasma will interact with Earth's magnetosphere when it arrives. The resulting geomagnetic storm could cause auroras to appear in unexpected places around the world and disrupt communications on Earth. It's also possible that the storm could disrupt power grids, as was seen during a particularly severe geomagnetic storm in 1989.
Auroras are not the only potential effect of a strong geomagnetic storm. Space weather can also affect satellite operations and navigation, radio communications, and electric power systems. A major geomagnetic storm could even disable parts of the power grid for an extended period of time, as happened in 1989 when a storm caused a massive blackout in Quebec.
Sunspots are cooler because they are located in areas of the sun where magnetic fields are particularly strong—to the point that they prevent heat from reaching the sun's surface from its core. This causes sunspots to be colder than the surrounding region.
Solar material and radiation are ejected away at high speed when these strong magnetic fields shift or rearrange suddenly. Sunspots can also trigger CMEs and solar flares, which are both forms of space weather.
The Earth's magnetic field can be disrupted by CMEs, which in turn might cause electrical power grid instability, more drag on satellites, and even auroras in areas where they are rarely seen. The term "geomagnetic storm" is used to describe the effects of a CME on Earth.
On Sunday, the U.S.'s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) announced that Wednesday's upcoming CME should only trigger a minor geomagnetic storm.
The following are some of the possible collateral effects: minor voltage fluctuations, a minor impact on satellite operations, and perhaps yesteryear's northern Michigan and Maine auroras.
The SWPC has predicted that the storm will be a G1-class storm—the mildest possible score on the geomagnetic storm scale, which goes up to G5. They occur often, sometimes multiple times in one month. Most people on Earth won't notice any effects from them.
G5 storms, if left unchecked, have the potential to cause irreversible damage to power grid systems, high frequency radio disruptions for an extended period of time, and even aurora sightings in states as south as Florida and Texas. G5 storms are quite a rare phenomena. The last time one was observed was in March of 1989, and even then it didn't cause as much damage as initially thought.
This storm, however, is not a G5. The only people who will be affected by it are those who depend on high-frequency radio communications—and even then, only if the storm is particularly strong. SWPC is predicting a maximum of G2 conditions.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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