Two powerful solar storms arriving at Earth today have captured the public’s attention for their potential to spark amazing auroras, but scientists say there’s another reason to watch. The solar double whammy is actually somewhat rare.
The sun unleashed a medium-sized flare on Monday (Sept. 8) followed by a second, larger flare, called an Earth-directed X-class flare, on Wednesday (Sept. 10). Both are from the same active sunspot region (Active Region 2158) and are directed at Earth, said Thomas Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Centre, during a news conference yesterday.
Solar flares are powerful eruptions of radiation. Large flares can produce coronal mass ejections (CMEs), waves of solar plasma and charged particles that can travel millions of miles an hour through space. Last night, as expected, the first of the CMEs made its appearance and is expected to cause geomagnetic storming, reaching moderate levels, this morning, according to the Space Weather Prediction Centre.
“The unique thing about this event is that we’ve had two in close succession, and the CMEs could possibly be interacting on their way to Earth, at the Earth’s orbit or beyond perhaps — we don’t know that yet,” Berger said.
What’s more, the second CME is moving at a faster speed and catching up to the first one.
The two CMEs may lead to geomagnetic storms hitting Earth and could cause problems with radio and GPS signals, Berger said.
“It’s fairly rare for two CMEs of this magnitude to come in close succession like this,” he said. “Because of this we cannot rule out higher storm levels,” particularly in polar regions where interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field are strongest.
The International Space Station will measure the CMEs as they pass by, giving scientists on Earth a 30- to 45-minute head start to prepare for the CMEs. But, on the upside, the solar event is expected to produce an array of beautiful northern lights, visible to people living in the northern United States.
‘Meteorite’ Crater in Nicaragua Stirs Debate
Nicaraguan officials said they believed a large crater gouged out of the ground near Managua at the same time capital residents reported hearing a loud blast was created by a meteor crashing to Earth. They further speculated that the crater, measuring 40 feet in width and 16 feet in depth, was caused by a fragment of an asteroid that passed within 25,000 miles of Earth over New Zealand about the same time.
But NASA said it had serious concerns about both claims.
The agency’s asteroid watch Twitter account said the timing and directions of the alleged meteor and near-Earth asteroid were completely different.
Other experts wondered why no one had seen a meteor streaking across the sky.
The lack of meteorite debris around the crater also called into question the government’s claims.
Managua residents standing around a mysterious crater that the government says was caused by a meteor.