Near X Class Solar Flare

Near X Class Solar Flare

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From https://www.spaceweather.com

CO-ROTATING INTERACTION REGION: NOAA forecasters say that a CIR (co-rotating interaction region) could hit Earth’s magnetic field on Sept. 17th. CIRs are transition zones between slow- and fast-moving solar wind streams. Solar wind plasma piles up in these regions, producing shock-like structures that can mimic CMEs and spark bright Arctic auroras. Solar flare alerts: SMS Text.

THE STARLINK INCIDENT: A minor geomagnetic storm is supposed to be minor. That’s why even experts were surprised on Feb. 4, 2022, when dozens of Starlink satellites started falling out of the sky. A weak CME had hit Earth’s magnetic field, and the resulting G1-class (minor) storm was bringing them down:

Above: A Starlink satellite breaks up over Puerto Rico on Feb. 7, 2022. Credit: The Sociedad de Astronomia del Caribe

How could this happen? A new paper published in the research journal Space Weather provides the answer.

“Although it was only ‘minor,’ the storm pumped almost 1200 gigawatts of energy into Earth’s atmosphere,” explains lead author Tong Dang of the University of Science and Technology of China. “This extra energy heated Earth’s upper atmosphere and sharply increased aerodynamic drag on the satellites.”

SpaceX launched the satellites from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 3, 2022. Forty-nine (49) Starlinks were crowded inside the Falcon 9 rocket; less than a quarter would survive.

As was SpaceX’s practice at the time, the satellites were deployed at an altitude of 210 km–their first stop en route to an operational altitude near 600 km. In the satellite business, 210 km is considered to be low, barely above the atmosphere. SpaceX starts there in case any satellite malfunctions after launch. From 210 km, a “bad sat” can be easily de-orbited.

A little too easily, as it turns out.

Using a physics-based computer model named “TIEGCM,” Dang and colleagues simulated conditions during the storm. As geomagnetic energy heated Earth’s atmosphere, the air density at 210 km increased globally by 20% with “hot spots” as high as 60%. This movie shows what happened:

Starlink dodged the worst spots. “The satellites did not hit any of the 60% regions,” says Dang. “But that didn’t save them.” The weaker 20% enhancements were enough to bring down 38 out of 49 satellites.

To prevent a repeat, SpaceX has started launching to 320 km instead of 210 km. Earth’s atmosphere has to reach that much higher to drag the satellites back during a geomagnetic storm. Since the change, more than 1200 additional Starlink satellites have been launched on 24 rockets without incident.

There’s still danger, though. “Air density at 320 km is an order of magnitude less (compared to 210 km), but it’s not completely safe,” cautions Dang’s co-author Jiuhou Lei, also from the University of Science and Technology of China. “During an extreme geomagnetic storm, density could increase from 200% to 800% even at these higher altitudes.”

Extreme storms may be in the offing. Young Solar Cycle 25 is just getting started. The profusion of minor storms we are observing today will intensify in the years ahead especially as we approach Solar Max around 2025.

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Storm Warning

Storm Warning

This from https://www.spaceweather.com/

GEOMAGNETIC STORM WARNING: Geomagnetic storms are possible on July 23rd when a full-halo CME is expected to hit Earth’s magnetic field. The storm cloud was hurled toward Earth yesterday by a solar tsunami eruption. NOAA forecasters say that G1– to G2-class (minor to moderate) storms are likely with a slight chance of escalating to category G3 (strong).

Exactly what time will the CME hit? This NASA model of the approaching cloud pinpoints the impact within a few hours around 0000 UT on July 23rd:

In the animation, Earth is marked by a yellow dot. Note that Mars, a red dot, also gets hit–a glancing blow on July 25th.

An independent NOAA model of the CME predicts a slightly later arrival, with the densest part of the storm cloud reaching Earth around 0400 UT on July 23rd. Either way, NOAA or NASA, the timing favors sky watchers in western Europe and North America. In the most optimistic case of a G3-category storm, auroras could descend as far south as Illinois and Oregon (geomagnetic latitude 50 degrees) during the night of July 22-23

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Weather Anxiety

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Sunspot Complex

Sunspot Complex

https://www.spaceweather.com/

X-CLASS SOLAR FLARE (UPDATED) : A big and very active sunspot complex emerged over the sun’s northeastern limb yesterday. It has already produced an X1-class solar flare. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the blast on April 17th at 03:34 UT:

A pulse of X-rays from the flare produced a strong shortwave radio blackout over southeast Asia and Australia: map. Mariners, aviators, and ham radio operators may have noticed unusual propagation effects at frequencies below 30 MHz.

Update: New images from SOHO confirm that the explosion hurled a CME into space: movie. The bulk of the CME will miss Earth, passing behind our planet in its orbit around the sun. However, there might be an Earth-directed component. NOAA analysts are looking into this now.

Meanwhile, get ready for more flares. This sunspot group has been active for more than a week, hurling CMEs and plumes of plasma into space from its location on the farside of the sun. Now it is turning to face Earth and shows no signs of slowing down.

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Lost in Space

Lost in Space

From  https://www.spaceweather.com/ on April 14

GEOMAGNETIC STORM WATCH (G2-CLASS): A CME is heading for Earth, propelled by the unexpected eruption of dead sunspot AR2987. NOAA forecasters say that G2-class geomagnetic storms are possible when the CME arrives midday on April 14th. During such storms, auroras can seen as far south as, e.g., New York and Idaho (geomagnetic latitude 55 degrees).

If the CME overwhelms Mercury’s relatively weak magnetic field, it could scour material off the planet’s surface creating a temporary atmosphere and adding material to Mercury’s comet-like tail.

The farside of the sun has been active this week, with more than one significant CME. Helioseismic soundings of the farside reveal a large region of intense magnetism–probably a complex sunspot group. It will rotate over the sun’s eastern limb about a week from now.

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