This movie shows two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) erupting from the sun on Jan. 23, 2013. The first was not directed at Earth; the second one is, but is not expected to have a strong impact. The movie was captured by the joint ESA/NASA mission the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), beginning at 7 p.m. EST on Jan. 22 and ending at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23.
Credit: ESA, NASA/SOHO/Goddard Space Flight Center
Not to be confused with a solar flare, a CME is a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and reach Earth one to three days later.
The second of two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) on Jan. 23, 2013, is seen erupting in the top of the picture, away from the sun, which is obscured by the disk in the center. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured this image, called a coronagraph: the bright light of the sun itself is blocked to provide a better view of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. This CME left the sun at speeds of 375 miles per second (1.35 million mph), which is almost 10 times lower than the very fastest CMEs.
Credit: ESA, NASA/SOHO › Larger image
Earth-directed CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they connect with the outside of the Earth’s magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. In the past, CMEs of this speed have not caused substantial geomagnetic storms. They sometimes cause auroras near the poles but are unlikely to affect electrical systems on Earth or interfere with GPS or satellite-based communications systems.
A slightly slower CME that was not Earth-directed, also erupted earlier in the day.
The first of two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) on Jan. 23, 2013, can be seen erupting in the lower left portion of this image, from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. This CME was not Earth-directed. This image is what’s known as a coronagraph, in which the bright light of the sun itself is blocked in order to better see the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.
Credit: ESA, NASA/SOHO › Larger image
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is the United States government’s official source for space weather forecasts.
Updates will be provided if needed.
The Sun, as shown by the illustration at right, can be divided into six layers. From the center out, the layers of the Sun are as follows: the solar interior composed of the core (which occupies the innermost quarter or so of the Sun’s radius), the radiative zone, and the convective zone, then there is the visible surface known as the photosphere, the chromosphere, and finally the outermost layer, the corona. The energy produced through fusion in the Sun’s core powers the Sun and produces all of the heat and light that we receive here on Earth.
The Sun, like most stars, is a main sequence star, and thus generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses 430–600 million tons of hydrogen each second. The Sun’s hot corona continuously expands in space creating the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that extends to the heliopause at roughly 100 astronomical units. The bubble in the interstellar medium formed by the solar wind, the heliosphere, is the largest continuous structure in the Solar System.
Stars like our Sun shine for nine to ten billion years. The Sun is about 4.5 billion years old, judging by the age of moon rocks. Based on this information, current astrophysical theory predicts that the Sun will become a red giant in about five billion (5,000,000,000) years.
What is a CME?
Contacts and sources:
Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
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