Monday, August 2, 2010

Aurora alert! Sun is waking up | Space | EarthSky

Wish we could see it here, but a lot of folks will be able to.
Hmm....wonder how many new UFO sightings will pop up in the tabloids August 5th....??

»Solar scientists have sounded an alert to a possible beautiful aurora – northern and southern lights – in tomorrow's night sky. 

The aurora might stem from a spectacular solar eruption that took place early Sunday morning, when our sun blasted tons of  tons of plasma (ionized atoms) into interplanetary space.  That plasma is now flying through the abyss of space between us and the sun – headed our way – due to arrive early in the day on August 4.

So tomorrow night – the night of August 3 – is the time to watch. The night of August 4 might be good as well.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) – caught the eruption on camera.  This is a spacecraft – launched in February 2010.  Here's what SDO's Facebook page had to say about this event:

The eruption happened at around 0855 UT (3:55 am EST) on August 1, 2010, when I detected a C3-class solar flare originating from a cluster of sunspots (called sunspot 1092). This isn't a large flare, but right at the same time, a filament located about 100,000 kilometers from the flare also erupted.

A "filament" is a lo…ng magnetic structure rising high above the surface of the sun filled with cool plasma. Because it is cooler than the sun's chromosphere, when in the direct line of sight between the Earth and sun, it appears as a dark ribbon snaking across the sun's disk. If a filament is spotted on the limb of the sun (i.e. on the side), it appears as a bright prominence arcing high into the sun's atmosphere.

When these charged particles from the sun reach Earth, they will interact with our world's magnetic field. There is the potential for a geomagnetic storm, which can interfere with cell phone reception and knock out power lines.

Solar particles stream down the field lines toward Earth's poles. Those particles collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, which then glow like miniature neon signs.

Aurorae normally are visible only at high latitudes. However, during a geomagnetic storm, aurorae can light up the sky at lower latitudes. Sky watchers in the northern U.S. and other countries should look toward the north on the evening of August 3rd/4th for rippling "curtains" of green and red light.

The sun goes through a regular activity cycle about 11 years long on average. The last solar maximum was in 2001, and its thought we reached a solar minimum in 2009. This latest minimum was particularly weak and long lasting.

Sunday's eruption is one of the first signs that the sun – our local star – is waking up and heading toward another period of maximum activity.

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