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Science & Technology => Outer Space => Topic started by: Optimus on August 03, 2010, 09:19:16 am

Title: Earth braced for ‘solar tsunami’ after eruptions on the Sun
Post by: Optimus on August 03, 2010, 09:19:16 am
Earth braced for ‘solar tsunami’ after eruptions,news-comment,news-politics,earth-braced-for-solar-tsunami-after-eruptions-on-the-sun-space-satellites-northern-lights


Two huge explosions on the sun have sent clouds of charged particles to earth

By Jonathan Harwood

The earth will be hit by a 'solar tsunami' this week after two huge explosions on the surface of the sun. The fireworks took place at the weekend and were witnessed by astronomers across the world.

First a flare erupted above a sunspot the size of our planet and soon afterwards a huge explosion of gas, known as a coronal mass ejection, took place in the sun's northern hemisphere. Both events were directed at the earth and the effects of them will be seen in our skies this week.

The two eruptions have sent clouds of electrically charged particles racing towards earth. When the clouds hit, sometime this week, they are expected to spark spectacular displays in the skies around the north and south poles and could even knock out satellites - although this is unlikely.

The coronal mass ejection was the larger of the explosions but is thought to have been triggered by the solar flare.

Dr Lucie Green, of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, who watched events on the sun unfold through Japan's orbiting Hinode telescope, told the Daily Telegraph: "These eruptions occur when immense magnetic structures in the solar atmosphere lose their stability and can no longer be held down by the sun's huge gravitational pull. Just like a coiled spring suddenly being released, they erupt into space."

She added: "It looks like the first eruption was so large that it changed the magnetic fields throughout half the sun's visible atmosphere and provided the right conditions for the second eruption. Both eruptions could be Earth-directed but may be travelling at different speeds.

"This means we have a very good chance of seeing major and prolonged effects, such as the northern lights at low latitudes."

The explosions could be a taste of things to come as astronomers say the sun is awakening from a period of inactivity. Really large events on the surface of the sun could cause magnetic 'space storms' that are strong enough to knock out power and communications systems on earth.

And although the explosions at the weekend are not that dangerous they could still have enough power to take out a satellite - a gust of solar particles is thought to have been responsible for wrecking Intelsat's Galaxy 15 satellite in April.