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Solar Eruption Flings Particles Directly at Mother Earth


Astronomers and physicists have been saying it for years: At some point, the increased sun activity during the peak of its current 11-year cycle is going to get a glob of plasma thrown directly at us.

In the dead of night early on February 9 the sun erupted in what NASA said was a long-duration solar flare, which triggered a coronal mass ejection (CME), the kind of event that sends plasma hurtling toward Mother Earth.

And this time, we’re directly in its sights. But NASA said not to worry. Though the particles can cause a geomagnetic storm when they connect with the outside of Earth’s magnetosphere for an extended period, they are not likely to do more than jazz up the aurora borealis. 

“Historically, CMEs at this speed are usually benign,” the U.S. space agency said in a statement. “In the past, CMEs at this strength have had little effect. They may cause auroras near the poles but are unlikely to disrupt electrical systems on Earth or interfere with GPS or satellite-based communications systems.”

CMEs typically send solar particles into space, and the ones aimed at Earth get here from one to three days later, NASA said.

Saturday's outburst was in addition to two solar flares that left the sun on February 5, reported, one at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time at about 750 miles per second, and the second one at 10:36 p.m., going 350 miles per second. These, however, were expected to merely glance off the Earth’s magnetosphere, if they hit us at all. 

For the one heading straight toward us though, astronomers said that aurora watchers may want to keep their eyes peeled for some spectacular Northern Lights.