Earth closest to the Sun, greeted by coronal mass ejection

Nothing personal, the Sun is just going through a phase right now.
Ameya Paleja
Large solar flare
Large solar flare

Getty Images / Handout  

On Jan 4, 2023, our planet reached the closest point to the Sun in its orbit and is expected to be hit by the wake of a coronal mass ejection (CME) coming from the Sun, Live Science reported.

A coronal mass ejection is a large expulsion of plasma and magnetic field from the solar surface. When the particles in this expulsion and the magnetic field interact with the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field, it compresses the latter, which is referred to as a geomagnetic storm.

The cause of a CME is usually a sunspot, a dark region on the solar surface where the magnetic field is intense enough to stop the convection process temporarily and cool down the region. However, over time, the magnetic field can snap and send solar particles into space that harm planets and their inhabitants.

Geomagnetic storms

A CME can take anywhere between four to five days to travel from the Sun to the Earth. On most occasions, the Earth is not in the line of fire of the CMEs and escapes them. The times it is, the strength of the CME determines the outcomes.

While the Earth's atmosphere absorbs much of the storm, the compression of the magnetosphere does cause auroras and radio blackouts. As the strength of the storm increases, auroras can be seen further away from the poles, and radio blackouts grow stronger, affecting navigation and communication devices.

A very powerful geomagnetic storm can result in damage to satellites and spacecraft as well as cause disruptions to electrical grids, which can push humanity into the dark age within a few seconds. Luckily, geomagnetic storms of such intensity are rare, perhaps as rare as a geomagnetic storm during a perihelion.

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What is perihelion?

The Earth's orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle but an ellipse. This means that at one time during the year, the Earth is closest to the Sun, called the perihelion, while at another, it is farthest from it, called the aphelion. One could easily dismiss these differences, but the fact is that the difference between the Earth's perihelion and aphelion is a mind-boggling three million miles (4.8 million km), more than ten times the distance between Earth and the Moon.

Earth closest to the Sun, greeted by coronal mass ejection
Planet Earth

For many years now, the Earth has been reaching its perihelion around the winter solstice, when the North Pole is tilted away the most from the Sun. However, every century, the date of the perihelion changes by two days, much like a leap year but over a century. This slight shift every century means that by the year 6430, the perihelion will be reached during the summer solstice when the North Pole is tilted toward the Sun.

Neither of these events has anything to do with solar flares or coronal mass ejections, which are an event of their own following their own 11-year cycle when the Sun's poles flip positions. As the Sun reaches an active phase of its cycles, CMEs and solar flares increase in number. And one such flare will hit the Earth on January 5 as the planet moves along toward the farthest point in its elliptical orbit.

Just some celestial bodies going their merry way, spinning about their axes and flipping poles, while you spend a lifetime of 60-70 years worrying about Earthily matters.