The Sun has been intense the past week, and now solar flares are coming toward Earth

There have been 24 coronal mass ejections in the past week alone.
Ameya Paleja
Solar activity stock image.
Solar activity stock image.


As NASA's Orion spacecraft prepares to fly by the Moon, sky gazers can expect another little treat in the skies as a minor geomagnetic storm is expected to hit the Earth, EarthSky reported. The intensity of the storm is G1, the least intense solar storm.

Over the past week, our Sun has seen some intense activity. Usually, when activity on the Sun increases, the chances of a geomagnetic storm on Earth also increase. Geomagnetic storms carry risks to infrastructure and communications on the planet. However, in the past week, our planet has been a bit lucky it wasn't in the line of fire.

Astronomers study the surface of the Sun to gauge the impact that solar activity might have on our planet. Every 11 years, the Sun goes through a cycle where its poles flip, causing a heavy churn of material inside. As the fusion reactor in space goes about these changes every now and then in its multi-billion-year life, scientists study them in a bid to understand more about our Star.

What NASA has seen in the past week

Across the planet, solar scientists have trained many instruments on the solar facade to keep track of the smallest of changes happening there. Here's what NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has observed in the past week alone.

Seen brightly lit in these images are areas of solar activity, while right next to them are darker areas where intense magnetic fields have led to a temporary slowdown of solar activity. Called sunspots, these are areas where scientists often find sudden outbursts of radiation, referred to as solar flares. These are large bursts of intense radiation that can travel across the solar system and interact with everything that comes their way.

At times, these outbursts are also accompanied by material from the solar surface, which is also sent out into space. These are called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Luckily for our planet, the atmospheric blanket absorbs most of these outbursts of energy, keeping humanity and other flora and fauna safe from its harm.

Solar weather ahead

Last month, Interesting Engineering reported how the formation of coronal holes had led to the appearance of a smile on the solar surface. Like a sunspot, a coronal hole also appears dark. However, instead of the magnetic field looping into the Sun itself, the magnetic field of a coronal hole extends as an open field into interplanetary space, which can let out solar flares as well as CMEs.

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High-speed solar winds are expected to reach Earth from a coronal hole today, which will also be joined by outbursts from a CME that occurred on November 17. Thus, the Earth, which had avoided some intense radiation in the past week, is now due to receive some.

Nevertheless, the intensity of these two events is overall still low and is classified as a G1-class geomagnetic storm, the least of all classifications. Therefore, the risk to infrastructure and communications is very low.

What it is likely to do instead is create some wonderful Northern Lights instead, which even those in northern areas of the U.S. like Minnesota and Montana will also be able to see. With clear skies expected, this can be a great start to the week.

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