Aurora alert: The Sun is waking up (w/ Video)

Aug 02, 2010
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory snapped this X-ray photo of the Sun early in the morning of Sunday, August 1. The dark arc near the top right edge of the image is a filament of plasma blasting off the surface -- part of the coronal mass ejection. The bright region is an unassociated solar flare. When particles from the eruption reach Earth on the evening of August 3/4, they may trigger a brilliant auroral display known as the Northern Lights. Credit: NASA

Sky viewers might get to enjoy some spectacular Northern Lights, or aurorae, tomorrow. After a long slumber, the Sun is waking up. Early Sunday morning, the Sun's surface erupted and blasted tons of plasma (ionized atoms) into interplanetary space. That plasma is headed our way, and when it arrives, it could create a spectacular light show.

"This eruption is directed right at us, and is expected to get here early in the day on August 4th," said astronomer Leon Golub of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time."

The eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, was caught on camera by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) - a spacecraft that launched in February. SDO provides better-than-HD quality views of the Sun at a variety of wavelengths.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This movie from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which loops twice, shows a 3.5-hour sequence of X-ray images of the Sun taken on Sunday, August 1. In the upper right, you can see a dark filament of plasma erupting outward, silhouetted against the solar globe. This Earth-directed eruption will reach us on the evening of August 3/4, potentially triggering a brilliant display of the Northern Lights. Credit: NASA

"We got a beautiful view of this eruption," said Golub. "And there might be more beautiful views to come, if it triggers aurorae."

When a coronal mass ejection reaches Earth, it interacts with our planet's magnetic field, potentially creating a geomagnetic storm. 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 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 occurred in 2001. Its latest minimum was particularly weak and long lasting. This is one of the first signs that the is waking up and heading toward another maximum.

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User comments : 15

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kenmiller2
not rated yet Aug 02, 2010
Is it just me, or is this burst actually headed up and away from Earth? I'm no expert but it would seem to me that if it were headed "directly" at the Earth as the report suggests, the burst would happen more in the central area of the disk. I understand that the burst would spread out as it leaves the disk, but it would still have to eminate from the central regions in order to meet the Earth wouldn't it?
Parsec
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 02, 2010
Imagine a rabbit running across a field ( the earth). You are spinning in place holding a rifle. You have to lead the rabbits current position (aim in front of it ) to hit it.
horsegalraye
5 / 5 (2) Aug 02, 2010
Perhaps I'm wrong, but, since these photos were taken from a spacecraft, the location of that craft may have been given quite a different from our view, here on Earth.... especially in the US.... and I'm in Florida. I've seen several different photos and videos.... they're all different, but showing the same event. I'm guessing that scientific data is driving the estimated arrival on Earth on Aug. 3 or 4, 2010.
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2010
The video quality really sucks. It's hard to clearly make out anything at all. Check out the SDO vids at SpaceWeather.com( http://www.spaceweather.com/ ). Also posted there is a movie from the SOHO satellite with a wider field of view, making the nature of the eruption a little easier to see.
Ashibayai
5 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2010
I was wondering the same as kenmiller2. I'm guessing these were taken by SOHO which should be located near Earth's Lagrange points on either side of our orbital path. Even if it's leading us, an eruption orthogonal to our plane should miss right?

I'm not doubting the scientists. Just a bit confused...

EDIT: Thanks yyz. That link explains a lot. Basically it seems that the flare and filament are one in the same as mentioned in the article, but the flare closer to our direction is also sending plasma our way. Also, the real SOHO video makes the filaments direction more clear.
Terberculosis
not rated yet Aug 02, 2010
I have only checked a few wavelengths, but on the SDO data archive ( http://sdo.gsfc.n...form.php ) all of the data from August 1 is missing in the output video files.

Kind of strange.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Aug 02, 2010
I'm turning on my A.C. in preparation.
Jsel21
not rated yet Aug 02, 2010
Is it just me, or is this burst actually headed up and away from Earth? I'm no expert but it would seem to me that if it were headed "directly" at the Earth as the report suggests, the burst would happen more in the central area of the disk.

Is it just me, or is this burst actually headed up and away from Earth? I'm no expert but it would seem to me that if it were headed "directly" at the Earth as the report suggests, the burst would happen more in the central area of the disk. I understand that the burst would spread out as it leaves the disk, but it would still have to eminate from the central regions in order to meet the Earth wouldn't it?


The picture was probably taken from a satellite with its camera oriented horizontally so that the top of the camera's view is in line with the direction of earth's orbit around the sun. It all depends on the camera's orientation.
Jsel21
not rated yet Aug 03, 2010
Will i be able to see these lights from northern ohio?
sherriffwoody
not rated yet Aug 03, 2010
Don't forget those in the southern hemispere will see the aurora austalis or southern lights. Its not only the northern hemisphere that is effected
Edylc
not rated yet Aug 03, 2010
Imagine a rabbit running across a field ( the earth). You are spinning in place holding a rifle. You have to lead the rabbits current position (aim in front of it ) to hit it.


And imagine that rabbit is 93 million miles away..
Eezyville
not rated yet Aug 03, 2010
Should we be worried about our electronics? I'm unplugging my stuff tonight just in case.
DozerIAm
Aug 03, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rah
1 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2010
The rest of the press release said that "..after observing the lights people should kiss their behinds goodbye because the following radiation storm was about to roast everything on Earth and evaporate the oceans."
james11
not rated yet Aug 05, 2010
What press release? If that is a joke Idk what to say.
omatumr
1 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2010
I am pleased that NASA is showing increasing interest in Earth's heat source - the Sun.

All the talk about the causes of changes in Earth's climate have been an idle waste of time and effort while NASA and the space science community ignored experimental data that showed the Sun is a plasma diffuser that is heated by neutron repulsion and selectively moves the lightweight elements and the lightweight isotopes of each element to the top of the solar atmosphere [Physics of Atomic Nuclei 69 (2006) 1847-1856].

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo