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Solar flare ejected from sun could hit Earth and light up the sky

The Sun, March 22, 2022 7:00PM Kids News

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A coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun is expected to hit Earth on Wednesday, but experts predict a minor solar storm most of us won’t even notice. Picture: supplied media_cameraA coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun is expected to hit Earth on Wednesday, but experts predict a minor solar storm most of us won’t even notice. Picture: supplied

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Space weather experts have spotted the sun ejecting a large mass of particles* and believe it could hit Earth in the next few days.

When ejections like this impact Earth’s magnetic field, they can cause solar storms.

While such an event is commonly known as a solar flare, the scientific term is “a coronal* mass ejection” or CME.

A CME is a huge expulsion* of plasma* from the sun’s outer layer, called the corona.

These expulsions shoot through space and can occasionally hit Earth.

Image provided by NASA shows the Sun unleashing a medium-sized solar flare, a minor radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection on 07/06/2011. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface and the ejection should deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field during the late hours 08/06/2011. media_cameraThis NASA image shows the sun unleashing a medium-sized 2011 solar flare, creating a minor radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME). Picture: NASA/supplied

Fortunately, the solar storm predicted for Wednesday 23 March is only likely to be a “G1 minor,” meaning no one will probably even notice if it happens.

“Another CME is heading for Earth, and it’s a little off target,” said Spaceweather.com experts.

“A glancing blow (or near miss) is possible during the late hours of March 23, according to (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) forecasters*. This will be the third time in the past week that a CME has almost landed a direct hit.”

The G1 minor category of solar storm could cause weak power grid interference and have a small impact on satellite communications.

A G1 storm could also confuse migrating* animals that rely on the Earth’s magnetic field for their sense of direction.

This 19 Jan 2012 image provided by NASA shows an M3.2 solar flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). An earth-directed coronal mass ejection was associated with the solar flare. NASA's Space Weather Services estimated that it traveled at over 630 miles per second and reached the Earth on 21 Jan when strong geomagnetic storms and aurora were observed. AFP PHOTO/HANDOUT/ NASA/SDO = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / NASA/SDO " - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS = media_cameraThis NASA image shows a 2012 solar flare that reached Earth on January 21, 2012, when strong geomagnetic storms and aurora were observed. Picture: AFP Photo/NASA

One good thing about solar storms is that they can produce very pretty natural light displays like the northern lights.

These natural light shows are called “auroras” and are examples of the Earth’s magnetosphere* getting bombarded* by solar wind, which creates the stunning green and blue arrays.

“Even a near miss can produce bright Arctic auroras,” said Spaceweather.com experts. “Best case scenario for ‘auroraphiles’*: a minor G1-class geomagnetic* storm.”

The Earth’s magnetic field helps to protect us from the more extreme consequences of solar flares.

23/01/2012 WIRE: This 23/01/2012 image provided by NASA, captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), shows an M9-class solar flare erupting on the Sun's northeastern hemisphere at 03:49 UT, just 4 days after a previous strong CME that sparked aurora around the world on 22/01/2012. A very fast coronal mass ejection (CME) traveling four million miles per hour (6.4 million kilometers per hour), is headed towards the Earth. A rush of radiation in the form of solar protons already has begun bombarding the Earth and is likely to continue through 25/01/2012. The radiation storm is the largest of its kind since 2005 but still ranks only a three on the scale of one to five, enough to be considered 'strong' but not 'severe'. Pic. Afp media_cameraThe January 2012 radiation storm was the largest of its kind since 2005, but still ranked only as a three on the scale of one to five, enough to be considered “strong” but not “severe” – and Wednesday’s predicted solar storm is expected to be “minor”. Picture: AFP

In 1989, a strong solar eruption shot so many electrically charged particles at Earth that the eastern Canadian province of Quebec lost power for nine hours.

As well as causing issues for our technology on Earth, they are potentially dangerous for astronauts if contact resulted in injury or interfered with mission control communications.

The sun is currently at the start of a new 11-year solar cycle, which usually sees eruptions and flares grow more intense and extreme.

This story was originally published by The Sun and is reproduced here with permission.

GLOSSARY

  • particles: tiny fragments of something, minuscule pieces
  • coronal: related to the sun’s outer layer, the corona
  • expulsion: act or process or something or someone being forcibly ejected or removed
  • plasma: plasma is the fourth state of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma); solar wind is plasma
  • forecasters: includes meteorologists who calculate in advance what weather events will occur
  • migrating: moving from one region or habitat to another depending on the season
  • magnetosphere: region of space surrounding Earth and other objects and planets in space
  • bombarded: inundated, swamped by direct stream of high-speed particles
  • auroraphiles: people who love or are fascinated by and follow aurora light displays
  • geomagnetic: magnetic field and properties associated with Earth

EXTRA READING

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Aurora Australia puts on a stunning southern show

NASA reveals high-resolution photos of the sun

NASA’s new ‘time travel’ telescope

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What does CME stand for?
  2. What two things could the G1 category of storm cause?
  3. Who or what might find a G1 minor storm confusing and why?
  4. What happened during a strong solar storm in 1989 and where?
  5. What is an aurora?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Solar storm light show
A G1 solar storm is a great opportunity to see a beautiful light show in the sky. Your teacher can show you some images online of the northern lights and the amazing colours they produce in the sky. These pictures are often over landmarks or amazing natural wonders.

Draw or sketch a local landmark or some natural habitat in the area you live with a solar light show (aurora) above. Your picture should be dark, but be able to show the landmark or nature with the colours in the sky.

Mount your picture on coloured card to display.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Visual Arts

2. Extension
Construct a diagram explaining how and why these solar storms occur and how it affects us here on Earth. Your diagram should be simple and easy to follow to explain a solar storm.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
Summarise the article

A summary is a brief statement of the main points of something. It does not usually include extra detail or elaborate on the main points.

Use the 5W & H model to help you find the key points of this article. Read the article carefully to locate who and what this article is about, and where, when, why and how this is happening. Once you have located this information in the article, use it to write a paragraph that summarises the article.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

Extra Reading in space