Unprecedented solar fury was unleashed recently as a colossal eruption on the far side of the Sun sent shockwaves hurtling towards Earth. This extraordinary event highlights the immense power of our nearest star and its impact on our planet, even from its hidden side.
Massive Solar Eruption Detected
On March 12, 2023, at 11:36 p.m. EDT, a colossal coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted from the side of the Sun not facing Earth. Researchers are analyzing data to identify the eruption’s source, currently believed to be the former active region AR3234. This region was Earth-facing in late February and early March, responsible for fifteen M-class flares and one X-class flare.
A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a massive burst of solar plasma, magnetic fields, and other particles that are ejected from the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. CMEs are a type of solar activity and can occur when magnetic energy built up in the corona is suddenly released, often in association with solar flares.
During a CME event, billions of tons of solar material are expelled into space at speeds ranging from 100 to over 3,000 kilometers per second. These eruptions can have significant effects on space weather, particularly if they are directed towards Earth.
When a CME is Earth-directed, the ejected solar material and magnetic fields can interact with Earth’s magnetic field, causing geomagnetic storms. These storms can lead to various effects, such as disruptions in satellite communications, navigation systems (e.g., GPS), power grids, and radio signals. They can also cause auroras, also known as the Northern and Southern Lights, to appear at lower latitudes than usual.
Despite their potential disruptive impacts, coronal mass ejections are also a subject of scientific interest and study, as they provide valuable information about the Sun’s behavior, magnetic fields, and the broader space environment.
Unusually High-Speed CME
NASA’s Moon to Mars Space Weather Office has classified this CME as a rare “R” type due to its remarkable speed of 2,127 kilometers (1,321 miles) per second. Simulations reveal the blast passing over Mercury, with Earth situated at the 3 o’clock position.
Impact on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe
The Parker Solar Probe, currently approaching its 15th perihelion, likely experienced a direct hit from the eruption. Although the spacecraft signaled nominal operational mode on March 13, scientists eagerly await further data downloads after the close approach to examine potential impacts and learn more about the CME event.
Halo CMEs: A Unique Phenomenon
The eruption is classified as a halo CME due to its ring-like appearance around the Sun. Halo CMEs occur when solar eruptions align directly towards or away from Earth, as seen in images captured by NASA/ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).
Far-Reaching Effects on Earth
Despite originating from the Sun’s far side, the CME’s shockwave reached Earth. As CMEs traverse space, they create shockwaves that accelerate solar energetic particles (SEPs) along their path. These particles can travel from the Sun to Earth in just 30 minutes.
SEPs are typically observed after Earth-facing solar eruptions, but less common from far-side eruptions. Nevertheless, spacecraft orbiting Earth detected SEPs shortly after the eruption, indicating the CME’s power to trigger a wide-reaching cascade of collisions. NASA’s space weather scientists continue to investigate this impressive and far-reaching event.
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