The sun unleashed a huge eruption of hot material on Wednesday that made some people seriously question what on earth they were watching on television – but this is not a burst of flaming debris about to hit Earth’s atmosphere.
The eruption was a massive flare – the largest we’ve seen in several years – that sent out a massive storm of cosmic radiation.
The thing is, the Sun makes flares every day, but they typically last just seconds, when an area of high-energy plasma spews out of its surface. These energetic events can send out radiation that could temporarily block out satellite signals or pose a threat to astronauts in orbit.
In this case, the monster blast released from the sun on Wednesday lasted for hours, blasting out of the star’s surface at incredible speeds and then zipping around the inner solar system for years before finally dissipating into space. This explosion has now moved to the outskirts of the solar system – the corona – where it will continue to play a role in high-energy radiation.
Sunquake Simulator Solar-storm simulator showing a simulation of an upcoming geomagnetic storm.
It is this storm that NASA is monitoring closely. The space agency has issued a Solar Storm Watch for Halloween – the day we will know if this is an “active storm”.
An active storm is defined as one where there’s a strong chance that space weather could disrupt communication, navigation and power systems on Earth – which could cause grid outages, satellite communication disruptions, aurora displays and potentially even alter weather patterns.
If we do experience an active storm this Halloween, the geomagnetic energy could spread out and hit the Earth at the beginning of November, NASA says.