Aurora borealis expected from massive solar storm
By Amina Khan, LA Times January 24, 2012 10:31 AM
LOS ANGELES — A massive explosion on the sun's surface, which has triggered the largest solar radiation storm since 2005, is expected to trigger an "amazing" show of aurora borealis, or northern lights, scientists say.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration detected a solar flare on Sunday night that peaked at 10:59 p.m. Eastern time. NOAA satellites traced the bright flash of X-ray light to an area on the sun's surface known as region 1402 — the same area that had produced a weaker flare on Thursday. A coronal mass ejection — which can hurl billions of tons of plasma at to 5 million miles an hour — quickly followed.
Although the flare unleashed a torrent of charged plasma particles toward Earth, the threat to satellites, power grids and other high-tech hardware is believed to be manageable, scientists said.
Radiation from the explosion arrived at Earth within hours of the flash, said Doug Biesecker, a physicist with NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. A burst of charged plasma particles is expected to reach Earth by 9 a.m. Tuesday. That charged plasma is travelling uncommonly fast, making the 93 million-mile trip to Earth in about 34 hours, rather than taking two or more days, as is usually the case, Biesecker said.
Sunday's radiation storm is the strongest since May 2005, when another happened that was perhaps 10 per cent larger, Biesecker said. Based on the amount of radiation emitted, both storms measure about a three on a scale of one to five.
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