from the National Geographic Daily News of June 8:
"Solar Flare Sparks Biggest Eruption Ever Seen on Sun"
Enormous ejection of particles into space shocks scientists.
A mushroom of cooled plasma popped like a pimple and rained onto the surface
of the sun yesterday—shooting perhaps the largest amount of solar material
into space ever seen, scientists say.
The solar flare — an unusually bright spot on the sun — wasn't surprising as
"moderate" event. Space observatories in the past year recorded about 70
such solar flares, each roughly ten times weaker than "extreme" flares, of
which only two have occurred since 2007.
Instead, what shocked scientists was the unusual amount of material that
lofted up, expanded, and fell back down over roughly half the surface area
of the sun. The event's simultaneous launch of particles into space is
called a coronal mass ejection (CME).
"This totally caught us by surprise. There wasn't much going on with this
spot, but as it came from behind the sun, all of the sudden there was a
flare and huge ejection of particles," said astrophysicist Phillip
Chamberlin of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), one of several
spacecraft that recorded the event.
"We've never seen a CME this enormous."
Solar Flares May Threaten Power Grids.
Chamberlin said it will take some time to calculate the energy and mass of
electrons and protons blasted into space. But he noted the volume occupied a
space hundreds of times bigger than a single Earth.
The ejection of particles burst from the right limb of the sun and sprayed
into space, so the blast will miss Earth—though the explosion may brighten
auroras near Earth's poles, Chamberlin said.
But he warned space-weather experts are concerned about future solar events.
The sun's 11-year cycle of activity, driven by tangled surface magnetic
fields, will hit its maximum in late 2013 or early 2014. Magnetic messiness
will peak around that time and prompt nasty solar storms.
"We'll probably see [extreme] flares every couple of months instead of
years," Chamberlin said.
If one of these powerful flares—and its coronal mass ejection—faces Earth,
the particles will pound satellite components with charged particles, short
some out, and potentially cripple them.
On the planet's surface, extra currents of solar particles drive extra
electric current through power lines and heat them up.
Power companies distribute loads to avoid such a disaster, but energetic
solar storms could still blow transformers and lead to power outages,
especially during heat waves like the one sweeping the eastern U.S. this
"Despite great countermeasures, the power grid is still vulnerable. We could
be in for some serious problems," Chamberlin said. (end)
So no problems for the inhabitants of Earth, at least this time!
Regards from Melbourne!