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A Strong M-class solar flare headed for Earth

August 4, 2011


A solar wind stream flowing from the indicated coronal hole should reach Earth on Aug. 7th or 8th. Credit: SDO/AIA.

STRONG SOLAR ACTIVITY: For the third day in a row, active sunspot 1261 has unleashed a strong M-class solar flare. The latest blast at 0357 UT on August 4th registered M9.3 on the Richter Scale of Flares, almost crossing the threshold into X-territory (X-flares are the most powerful kind). The number of energetic protons around Earth has jumped nearly 100-fold as a result of this event. Stay tuned for updates.

INCOMING CLOUDS: At least two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are now en route to Earth, propelled toward us by eruptions in the magnetic canopy of sunspot 1261 on August 2nd and 3rd. Analysts at the GSFC Space Weather Lab have just produced a new 3-D model of the advancing CMEs. Click on the image to set the clouds in motion below:

According to the model, Earth’s magnetic field will receive a double-strike from the clouds on August 4th at 22:39 UT plus minus 7 hours. Mild to moderate geomagnetic storms are possible when the CMEs arrive. Aurora alerts: text, voice.

SPOTTED SUNSETS: During the recent years of deep solar minimum, observers of the sunset grew accustomed to a blank solar disk. News flash: The sunspots are back. “The sunset conditions of August 2nd were just right to show the massive sunspots AR1260, AR1261 and AR1263 to the casual observer who happened to glance at the sun for a brief few moments,” reports Stephen W. Ramsden of Atlanta, Georgia. “You could even see the penumbra with the naked eye!” He had a camera handy and snapped this picture:

“The size and broiling movement of these sunspots just boggles the mind,” he says. “You could fit every planet in the solar system with all of the known asteroids neatly inside the largest group…wow!”

Caution: Even when the sun is dimmed by low-hanging clouds or haze, focused sunlight can still damage your eyes. Do not look at the sun through unfiltered optics of any kind. A safely-filtered White Light Solar Observing System is the best way to monitor these great sunspots.

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