A lot happened while we were down. Sunspot 1402 decided to show its strength as it crossed over the visible corona. From the start it began shooting out M class flares, and just as it was leaving it did the same. The strongest flare it released was an X5 class flare, which produced a large CME that mostly hit Earth. On top of several other C and M class flares, the magnetic field has had to work over time on certain occasions as of late.
The volcanic situation is interesting as always, with a few new candidates appearing on the scene, with a few old timers like Etna continuing on and on.
The largest earthquake we’ve seen since we’ve been gone was a 7.4 magnitude quake that struck Mexico on the 20th, following a 6.9 that struck Japan just a few days earlier, and prior to a 6.6 that struck PNG late on the 21st. The 188 day theory did not hold true, unfortunately. The idea was that there was a megaquake separated by a 7 mag quake in this pattern, since February 27, 2010. While we did have some 6 magnitude action and a 7.4, it still isn’t enough to say that this cycle held out. I think that it may be indicative of a pattern of movement roughly every 6 months or so, but rounding it down to the day, or hour, is likely to yield no real results. That’s all at present. The equinox has come, and now shall the colours of 2012 really start to come through.
QUIET SUN: With no sunspots actively flaring, the sun’s output has flatlined again.
NOAA forecasters put the chance of an M-class flare during the next 24 hours at no more than 1%. Solar activity should remain low.
AURORA WHIRLPOOL: On Feb. 14-15, Arctic skies erupted with an unexpected display of auroras that veteran observers said was among the best in months. At the height of the event, a US Defense Meteorological Program satellite photographed a whirlpool of Northern Lights over the Bering Sea:
“A number of images from the DMSP F18 satellite captured the dramatic auroral event of the last couple nights,” says analyst Paul McCrone, who processed the data at the US Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, CA.
The reason for the outburst is still not completely clear. It started on Feb. 14th when a magnetic disturbance rippled around the north pole. No CME was obvious in local solar wind data at the time; the disturbance just happened. Once begun, the display was amplified by the actions of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). The IMF near Earth tipped south, opening a crack in our planet’s magnetic defenses. Solar wind poured in and fueled the auroras.
more images: from Göran Strand of Östersund, Sweden; from Heidi Pinkerton of Birch Lake, Babbitt, Minnesota; from Roger Schneider of Tromso, Norway; from Hanneke Luijting of Tromsø, Norway; from Peter Rosén of Abisko NP, Sweden; from Jesper Grønne of Silkeborg Denmark
OLD SUNSPOT RETURNS: Sunspot AR1402, which unleashed an X2-class solar flare on Jan. 27th, has returned after a two-week transit around the far side of the sun. Two weeks of decay have greatly reduced the old active region.
The sunspot group, re-numbered AR1419 for its second apparition, is crackling with B- and C-class solar flares. These flares are minor compared to the eruptions of January.
The return of AR1402 is mainly significant for nostalgic reasons.
For the second day in a row, sunspot AR1416 has doubled in size. It has developed a beta-gamma magnetic field that harbors energy for M-class solar flares. Any such eruptions this weekend would be Earth directed as the sunspot turns to face our planet.
Region 11416 [S18E11] developed further forming large penumbrae in the leading and trailing spot sections.
Spot Count: 17 (^9)
Area Size: 100 (^10)
NORTHEASTERN ERUPTION: Solar activity is picking up. During the late hours of Feb. 9th, a dark magnetic filament winding over the sun’s northeastern limb rose up and exploded. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the action:
The eruption hurled a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) away from the sun: SOHO movie
The expanding cloud is not heading for Earth, but in a day or so it might make contact with Venus, which appears to be in the line of fire.
The emergence of a new sunspot at the root of the erupting filament plus the rapid growth of existing sunspot AR1416 could foreshadow more activity in the days ahead.
That’s when an annular solar eclipse will turn the sun into a ring of fire.
This is the first solar eclipse visible from the United States in about 18 years, according to NASA. We’ve had our share of lunar eclipses in recent years, but solar eclipses happen when the moon passes in front of the sun, obscuring it from view.
The “ring of fire” effect will be visible as far north as Medford, Oregon and as far south as Lubbock, Texas. Throughout the zone –called the “path of annularity” – sky watchers will see the sun transformed into a a bright doughnut-like object.
The rest of the country west of the Mississippi (including Seattle) will witness a partial eclipse. That’s when the sun appears to be crescent-shaped as the moon passes by off-center.
NASA wants to remind you that this is not a total eclipse — when the moon entirely obscures the sun from view. The next total eclipse visible from the US happens in 2017. (Again, mark your calendar.)
Everyone is familiar with weather systems on Earth like rain, wind and snow. But space weather – variable conditions in the space surrounding Earth – has important consequences for our lives inside Earth’s atmosphere.
Solar activity occurring miles outside Earth’s atmosphere, for example, can trigger magnetic storms on Earth. These storms are visually stunning, but they can set our modern infrastructure spinning.
On Jan. 19, scientists saw a solar flare in an active region of the Sun, along with a concentrated blast of solar-wind plasma and magnetic field lines known as a coronal mass ejection that burst from the Sun’s surface and appeared to be headed for Earth. When these solar winds met Earth’s magnetic field, the interaction created one of the largest magnetic storms on Earth recorded in the past few years. The storm peaked on Jan. 24, just as another storm began.
“These new storms, and the storm we witnessed on Sept 26, 2011, indicate the up-tick in activity coming with the Earth’s ascent into the next solar maximum,” said USGS geophysicist Jeffrey Love.” This solar maximum is the period of greatest activity in the solar cycle of the Sun, and it is predicted to occur sometime in 2013, which will increase the amount of magnetic storms on Earth.
Magnetic storms, said Love, are a space weather phenomenon responsible for the breathtaking lights of the aurora borealis, but also sometimes for the disruption of technology and infrastructure our modern society depends on. Large magnetic storms, for example, can interrupt radio communication, interfere with global-positioning systems, disrupt oil and gas well drilling, damage satellites and affect their operations, and even cause electrical blackouts by inducing voltage surges in electric power grids.
Storms can also affects airline activity — as a result of last weekend’s storm, both Air Canada and Delta Air Lines rerouted flights over the Arctic bound for Asia as a precautionary measure. Although the storm began on the 19th of January, it did not peak until January 24th.
NASA is applying existing technology called “ensemble forecasting” that’s been used to predict hurricanes in its observations of solar weather to better predict the path and effect of solar storms. The use of the computational predictive technique couldn’t come as a better time, as the sun is entering its solar maximum, or period of greatest activity, which will spur an increase in space weather, according to the agency. Researchers at the Space Weather Laboratory of Goddard Space Flight Research Center have begun to implement ensemble forecasting–which allows them to produce as many as 100 computerized forecasts at once–with full implementation in three years’ time, according to NASA.
Support from NASA’s Space Technology Program Game Changing Program is allowing for the use of the technology, which meteorologists already use to track the potential path or impact of hurricanes and other forms of severe weather. Ensemble forecasting uses computer modeling to calculate multiple possible space weather conditions to simultaneously produce forecasts that researchers can analyze. From this analysis they can create alerts for solar storms that could affect astronauts or NASA spacecraft, according to the agency.
These alerts already are available, but not with the same speed or reliability as ensemble forecasting will provide, Michael Hesse, chief of Goddard’s Space Weather Laboratory and director of the Center’s Heliophysics science division, said in a press statement.
“Ensemble forecasting will provide a distribution of arrival times, which will improve the reliability of forecasts,” he said. “This is important. Society is relying more so than ever on space. Communications, navigation, electrical-power generation, all are susceptible to space weather.”
X-FLARE: Departing sunspot 1402 unleashed an X2-class solar flare on Jan. 27th at 18:37 UT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash.
Sunspot 1402 is rotating onto the far side of the sun, so the blast site was not facing Earth. Nevertheless, energetic protons accelerated by the blast are now surrounding our planet, and an S2-class radiation storm is in progress.
The explosion also produced a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME). A movie from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows the cloud raced away from the sun at 2500 km/s or 5.6 million mph. Update: Work by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab shows that the CME will just miss Earth when its edge passes by our planet on Jan. 30-31.
STORM RECAP: As expected, a CME hit Earth’s magnetic field on Jan. 24th at approximately 1500 UT (10 am EST). The impact produced a G1-class geomagnetic storm and bright auroras around the Arctic Circle.
Even veteran aurora watchers were impressed. “This was one of the best displays that I’ve ever seen, and I mean ever in over 5000 hours on the ice,” says Andy Keen of Finland. “It was, in short, truly spectacular and something that will live with me for a lifetime.” In the Abisko National Park of Sweden, aurora tour guide Chad Blakely contributed a similar report: “Eight tourists and I were treated to one of the most wonderful displays I have ever seen. The auroras began as we were eating dinner and continued into the very early hours of the morning. Words can not describe the excitement we shared.”
SUBSIDING STORM: A geomagnetic storm caused by Monday’s M9-class solar flare and Tuesday’s CME impact is over. The aurora watch is cancelled for all but the higher latitudes around the Arctic Circle.
The geomagnetic field was quiet to major storm on January 24.
Solar wind speed ranged between 347 and 732 km/s. A strong solar wind shock was observed at SOHO at 14:34 UTC, the arrival of the CMEs observed early on January 23. The geomagnetic disturbance peaked 17-20h UTC when the planetary A index reached 80. The radiation storm peaked at the arrival of the CMEs with the above 10 MeV proton flux reaching a high of 6310 pfu, the strongest radiation event since 2003.