A 120,000-mile-long filament from the Sun is headed toward Earth

It is expected to cause a low-intensity geomagnetic storm.
Ameya Paleja
Solar flares
Solar flares

iStock/cokada 

During one of the most intense weeks in recent times, the Sun let out a 120,00 mile-long (200,000 km) fiery filament that is headed straight toward us. Experts expect it to reach Earth by the end of the week, The Weather Channel reported.

Solar activity has been picking up pace in the past few months as the Sun approaches the peak of its solar cycle. Every 11 years or so, the poles on the Sun switch their positions, sending our star into a tizzy of activity, marked by the appearance of sunspots and darker areas on the solar surface.

Scientists keenly study the sunspots since these are areas of intense magnetic activity. At times, these areas give off fierce radiation, called solar flares, and on relatively rare occasions, also give out particulate matter, called coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

Filament of fire

As scientists study the solar surface, they come across instances of rare phenomena. Earlier in August, Interesting Engineering had reported the occurrence of a hole in the southern atmosphere of the Sun. Prior to that, scientists noted filaments of magnetism that ran for thousands of miles on the solar surface.

Last time around, the filaments held their own. However, on October 4th, another long filament, also in the southern part of the Sun, snapped like a rubber band, The Weather Channel said in its report. Interestingly, observatories that were capturing the activity had a stoppage in the data stream that was being received, and the information available about the filament was incomplete.

Scientists aren't sure where exactly the resultant CME is heading, but they know enough to know that it is headed toward us and could graze our planet's magnetosphere on October 7 or 8.

Mild geomagnetic storm

The likely interaction of the CME with our planet is expected to cause a G1-class geomagnetic storm. On the intensity scale, such storms are relatively mild and have a minor impact on infrastructures such as power grids and communication satellites.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S., there is a 25 percent likelihood of a major radio blackout following the G1-class storm. The likelihood of a minor radio blackout is pegged higher at 50 percent.

Although the Earth's atmosphere protects the planet's inhabitants from the highly energized particulate matter in the CMEs, astronauts and spacecraft that do not enjoy such enveloped protections are at risk during such events. SpaceX lost over 40 of its Starlink satellites earlier this year during such a storm.

However, not all effects of the geomagnetic storm are so scary. Auroras are also the result of space weather caused by the Sun. While we have expected bright auroras to shine in areas as low as New York and Idaho this week, the upcoming geomagnetic storm is unlikely to have a similar impact, SWPC's aurora dashboard has predicted.

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