Solar Storm 2013 Headed Towards Earth At 2 Million MPH: Is 'Coronal Mass Ejection' Dangerous?
A solar storm erupted yesterday morning, blasting billions of charged particles towards Earth at a speed of 2 million mph. At that rate, the storm should take one to three days to enter the Earth's atmosphere.
The storm is what's known as a coronal mass ejection. A CME is a phenomenon which occurs when solar wind -- charged particles from the sun's upper atmosphere -- breaks through the sun's atmosphere and is released into space. Yesterday's CME was a typical example of a solar ejection, according to NASA.
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"Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 570 miles per second, which is a fairly typical speed for CMEs," NASA said in a statement.
CMEs heading towards Earth have the potential to cause geomagnetic storms. The solar wind of a magnetic storm can interfere with the Earth's magnetosphere, disrupting radio and GPS signals. A geomagnetic storm can also damage power grids; in 1989, in Quebec, a solar storm was to blame for a massive power outage there.
The website spaceweather.com says that high-latitude sky watchers should be on the lookout for aurora, which can result from magnetic storms.
According to NASA, solar particles "cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth." In space, astronauts can potentially be exposed to harmful radiation from magnetic storms. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station, for instance, are sometimes moved to protected areas of the station to avoid radiation during magnetic storms.
While scientists believe that CMEs are caused by disruptions in the magnetic field of the sun, they're not sure what causes such disruptions in the first place. A recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists created a series of mathematical models which were able to show the events that lead up to CMEs, but this study still didn't get at the initial cause of them.
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