Solar Flare Could Impact Earth
A potent and unexpected solar flare observed Monday morning by a NASA satellite could cause disruptions to satellite communications and power on Earth during the next few days, according to scientists at UNH's Space Science Center (SSC).
Early Jan. 23, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory caught an extreme ultraviolet flash from a huge coronal mass ejection (CME) from a region of the sun that has become increasingly active. The explosion's ranking puts it on the threshold of being an X-flare, the most powerful kind. Solar protons accelerated by the CME are currently streaming past Earth.
The sun, which has been unusually inactive during an extended solar minimum cycle, launched the firestorm of radiation on a level not witnessed since 2005 and will likely lead to geomagnetic storm activity as the energetic protons pass through Earth's magnetic field or "magnetosphere." This could cause isolated reboots of computers onboard Earth-orbiting satellites, interfere with polar radio communications, and create aurora.
In addition to the Solar Dynamics Observatory, observations of the CME were made by two spacecraft on which UNH scientists and engineers have played a key role – the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft.
"During the two and a half years the LRO mission has been making measurements, this is certainly the most significant event," says Harlan Spence, an astrophysict at UNH and director of its Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS). The CRaTER instrument onboard the LRO satellite is designed to measure and characterize aspects of the deep space radiation environment.
Geomagnetic storms caused by eruptions on the sun can disrupt power grids, satellites that operate global positioning systems and other devices, and can lead to some rerouting of flights over the polar regions.