Yesterday (April 14), a coronal mass ejection – caused by the extremely powerful solar prominence – erupted from the sun’s surface yesterday. Many online reports are saying its effects will reach Earth today, but that projection has been updated. It’s now thought this catastrophic event on the sun could result in a “glancing blow” to Earth’s magnetic field on or about April 17.
This movie shows a coronal mass ejection from 2001. These events feature an ejection of material from the sun’s corona (literally “crown”), the beautiful plasma atmosphere seen to extend from the sun during a total solar eclipse. The ejected material consists primarily of electrons and protons. Once it reaches Earth’s vicinity, it can knock out satellites and interfere with earthly communications.
This sort of event can also result in magnificent auroras – the famous northern or southern lights – often visible at high latitudes, and sometimes – when these sorts of events occur – even closer to the tropical regions on Earth. So be alert for auroras in the days ahead.
The beautiful golden image at the top of this post was taken by Jo Dahlmans of the Netherlands and posted at the site Spaceweather.com. It shows the solar prominence seen on April 14. A solar prominence is a bright extension from the sun’s surface which loop up many thousands of miles into space. The mass contained within a prominence is typically of the order of 100 billion tons of material. The prominence itself doesn’t effect Earth. It’s something that happens on the sun – like an alert signal that something else may be coming.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.