Tag Archives: sun

X-Class Solar Flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)

X-Flare - NASA
X-Class solar flare and coronal mass ejection (X-Class CME) on the Sun

This image was produced by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory using a combination of two wavelengths, of extreme ultraviolet light. The end result is a stunning depiction of a X-Class Solar Flare and the associated Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the Sun. This X-Class CME which occurred on January 7, 2014 was directed towards the Earth, and may have resulted in bright auroras visible on certain parts of Earth when it impacted our planet’s magnetosphere. Thankfully it did not have any reported deleterious affects on the satellites in orbit or electrical systems and equipment on Earth.

This X-class solar event was measured at X1.2. The “X” classification denotes a significant solar event in the overall scale, which goes from A, B, C, M, X and Z – in ascending order. Within each classification, the numerical value represents its strength on a linear scale, so this X1.2 CME would be quite low within the “X” class measurement. For reference, the highest recorded solar flare was an X28 but it is believed by some that the 1859 Carrington Event, may have been a X40 solar flare and CME, generating massive solar storms on Earth. Unless we are prepared for a similar event today, it could result in catastrophic failures of electronic/electrical systems and significant loss of life.

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Sun and the extreme ultraviolet radiation from corona

Solar uv radiation
Extreme ultraviolet radiation emitted from the corona

This 1973 picture is a polaroid of the TV screen from the Skylab space station’s Extreme Ultraviolet monitor. Taken by astronaut Owen Garriott of the Skylab 3 mission, this system had finally allowed humans to view the Sun’s image in the extreme ultraviolet radiation emitted from the corona (its extremely hot outer atmosphere). The picture was taken with a Land-Polaroid SX-70 camera and was the first time that this iconic Polaroid camera was used in space.

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M-Class Solar Flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)

M-Class CME
Medium coronal mass ejection (M-Class CME) from August 18, 2013

Coronal mass ejection (CME) is the violent release of gas, radiation and magnetic fields, above the Sun’s corona and then often into space. This picture from August 18, 2013 is of a medium solar flare (M-class flare) and the associated coronal mass ejection. The solar flare is the strong bright region while the CME is the plasma streaking out. This picture was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

SDO is a mission launched in 2010 to study the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. A CME directed towards Earth could affect affect us greatly. It could cause our planet’s magnetic field to shift suddenly; inducing electricity in large, powerful conductors. This would overload the affected electrical systems and cause massive damage to the critical electricity transformers and other grid infrastructure – with potentially drastic results for mankind.

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Why do we have red sunsets?

Red Sunset Canada
Red sunset looking out looking towards the St-Lawrence River – in Rivière-du-Loup, Québec, Canada.

We have all seen beautiful sunsets – sometimes in person and often in pictures that are much like the one above. The sun often sets in  a scintillating reddish-orange aura. Why is the the sun red in colour? Even though it may look red to you when it is setting at your location on Earth, it is also looking bright white to those further to your west where it is not setting.  So we know that the sun itself isn’t really red in colour.

The main reason for the change in its colour is the large distance of the Sun (150,000,000 km) from the Earth. As the sun sets, the distance its light must travel through the Earth’s atmosphere also increases. This atmosphere is composed of many gases, water vapour and numerous particles that affect the sunlight passing through. They can scatter the light, which is made up of all colours, in such a way short-wavelength colours (green, blue, violet) are scattered out and they leave more of the red and yellow frequencies for us to see.

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