Friday, 18 February 2011

Large Solar Flare and CME (February 16, 2011)

Many Thanks to my good old Friend Mr. Stephen W Ramsden for allowing to reproduce this from his blog:

CME: Corona Mass Ejaculation

This week (February 15th, 2011) the Sun unleashed an extremely powerful x-ray flare from a massive group of sunspots that we astronomers have come to know as AR11158. This stands for Active Region 11158 which had been evolving for several days on the far side of the Sun. When it rotated around and into view it was a rapidly forming group of Jupiter sized sunspots indicating massive electromagnetic activity on the photosphere of the Sun. This group of spots has released some of the most impressive features yet observed on the Sun.

Amateur astronomers around the globe have imaged this group from early in its initial formation all the way through to its current enormous state of instability. I watched a precursor flare to the “big one” erupt myself with a group of elementary school students in Brooks, GA. These were some of the luckiest students and teachers on Earth as they happened to be behind some of the most advanced narrowband solar telescopes available just at the right time to see a major flare erupt and the resulting Coronal Mass Ejection that is just now starting to barrage the Earth’s fragile magnetic field as I write this. The later x-ray flare CME on the 16th is predicted to catch up with the weaker 2 CME’s from the flares on Valentine’s day and all hit the Earth…today (Friday, February 18th).

The forecasted effect on Earth will be something from Northern lights extending possibly all the way down to the equator to complete frazzling of the power grid around the Earth throwing us into the Stone Age for a few weeks. No one is quite sure and anyone who says they know is wrong. We just don’t know.

I was lecturing a group of science teachers yesterday at the Georgia Science Teachers Association conference at the downtown Hyatt hotel in Atlanta. When I mentioned this event from Tuesday and showed a few pictures that I had taken of it you should have seen the startled looks on the faces of even these science educators at the prospect of a global affect from this solar event. This reminded me of something I have been teaching in my outreach program “The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project- for a couple of years:

Almost all of our modern conveniences like DirecTV, Internet, cell phones, ATM banking machines, eBay, home security systems, kitchen appliances, etc… have been developed and refined to their current states during a period of historically low and steady solar activity. The Sun has been a steadfast and mostly friendly star for many decades. We are now undoubtedly entering a period of very intense solar activity including massive active regions, solar flares and prominences and gargantuan coronal mass ejections becoming commonplace. Ask any member of the rapidly growing amateur solar astronomy community and they will confirm that the last few months have been filled with incredible solar activity.

What does this mean to you? Well, it means that in my opinion, you’d better have a plan for how you will deal with the disruption of electrical power and satellite transmissions for several days and you should probably familiarize yourself with solar activity so that you can recognize and understand the terminology.

I do not adhere to the calamity based projections of the History channel or in Hollywood but you can pretty much count on some inconveniences to your day to day life because of solar activity in the next couple of years. No, “2012” the movie is not a factual representation of what’s coming. It is a Hollywood production exaggerated to the point of being ridiculous in order to make money off of the Fox News, scare tactics culture which permeates this country. However, the facts are clear to us amateur solar astronomers…the Sun is waking up and its effects on us will be felt in the near future, if not tonight.

Did I mention that Betelgeuse is also probably already exploded into a Supernova and its light will probably reach us any second now? This is nothing to worry about physically but you know how people love a disaster prediction or a “sign from God” to scare the hell out of them.

The last supernova event bright enough to be seen in the daytime from Earth was seen in 1054AD and was recorded by several people around the world. It is still viewable today as the Crab Nebula. This occurred 6000 light years away and was bright enough to be seen by the entire world in the daytime for weeks. The star Betelgeuse, in the Orion Constellation, is only 550 light years away so this should be an enormously bright explosion about 3 times the size of the full moon and visible for weeks in the daytime and nighttime sky from different parts of the globe. It will be bright enough to cast your shadow at night. All indications from spectral analysis of the star show it to be on the brink of exploding into a Supernova. The thing is, the event would have had to happen 550 years ago for us to see it tomorrow as the light takes that long to reach us.

This explosion will surely cause an incredible swell of religious fanaticism across the globe with everyone claiming that this is a sign of Armageddon, the second coming, or whatever they can cook up to manipulate people. This should be an interesting and probably deadly display of human nature around the world.

Folks, the bottom line is this. We live in an extremely fragile planetary ecosystem that is part of a group of coagulated rocks and gas known as the Solar System. Our lives and the life of this planet are completely dominated by the Sun’s radiation and particle streams (the solar wind). The planet has been in a state of relative steadiness for enough time for life (us) to develop to a stage where we can all sit around and ponder the nature of things. It is not forever and it is certainly not immune to the sort of changes that would create worlds like Venus and Mars, both unlivable by our standards.

The longer we wallow in political rhetoric and spend all of our time finding new ways to hate each other, the less prepared we will be for any minute changes in the nature of our solar system which could destroy or forever alter our civilization as we know it.

To my friends and colleagues in the amateur solar astronomy community, I would like to encourage all of you to get out there and share your knowledge of solar astronomy and your telescope equipment with the general public in an effort to bring these things into the light of public knowledge so that the next generation will understand and appreciate the Sun and its complete control of our planets ecosystem and all life on this planet.

Have a nice day and Look Up More!

Stephen W. Ramsden

Director of The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project