We've covered some pretty amazing coronal mass ejections (CMEs) here on PopSci, but we might have to crown this one the best yet. Blasting forth from the solar surface at 900 miles per second on August 31, it was captured in all of its tendril-esque glory by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
If the image doesn't look real, rest assured that it is. But the SDO clearly doesn't capture imagery of the sun in the same way the human eye does.
If you saw it firsthand then you had no choice but to notice it, but for the rest of us who weren't so lucky, here's the deal: yesterday a coronal mass ejection, a.k.a. a CME, a.k.a. a solar storm or a huge burst of solar wind emanating from our sun slammed into our atmosphere at about 2 p.m. EDT. That mass of charged particles compressed Earth's magnetic field and sparked a pretty intense geomagnetic storm, resulting in what you see here: breathtaking auroras that are usually confined to high latitudes spilled out across North America, reaching as far south as New Mexico and Alabama.
A trifecta of sunsplosions over the past few days has prompted government agencies to once again warn of possible power and communications disruptions. The coronal mass ejections could produce a strong aurora as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to space weather forecasters at NOAA.
One of the biggest disasters we face would begin about 18 hours after the sun spit out a 10-billion-ton ball of plasma--something it has done before and is sure to do again. When the ball, a charged cloud of particles called a coronal mass ejection (CME), struck the Earth, electrical currents would spike through the power grid. Transformers would be destroyed. Lights would go out. Food would spoil and--since the entire transportation system would also be shut down--go unrestocked.
It appears Tuesday’s massive solar eruption is already impacting communications in southern China and may disrupt satellites in orbit and electrical grids on the ground over the next few days. The X-class flare is the most powerful seen in four years.
Solar storms could wreak havoc on satellites and power grids, and so scientists have humbly turned to netizens across the world to help watch our sun for possible signs of such storms. Anyone who can spare some time from YouTube and Facebook also gets to peer at nifty 3-D images of the sun, according to BBC.