We all have the liberty to say anything that we like when it comes to our nearest star, but when you consider the latest among solar eruptions, one thing that is certain is the impeccable timing it has.
On 28th December this year, there was an eruption of a sunspot cluster that blasted an M-class flare directed at the Earth. The upper atmosphere of the earth was immediately washed over due to this extreme ultraviolet radiation. It also initiated an ionization event causing a radio blackout across Africa, South America, and the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Ham radio enthusiasts and Mariners would have detected the blackout on the 20 MHz frequency.
While the flare was certainly not as strong as an X-class flare (which is the most powerful), this event triggered a substantial coronal mass ejection (CME) which is presently racing towards the Earth. Forecasters of Space Weather are predicting a direct collision with the magnetic field of the Earth on or closer to New Year’s Eve. Such an event could potentially spark some fireworks, albeit natural in the upper atmosphere of the Earth and that could be just in time to announce the arrival of 2016.
Writing for SpaceWeather.com, Tony Phillips from NASA stated that the Sunspot AR 2374 presents an unstable ‘beta-gamma’ magnetic field which could explode yet again in the hours to come. Forecasters at NOAA also estimated a 55% chance of further M-class flares and a feeble 10% chance of X-flares on 28th December.
CMEs and Flares are different kinds of beats triggered by identical magnetic phenomenon. The internal magnetic field of the sun forces itself though the photosphere of the sun during high magnetic activity on the sun. The inner sun is exposed due to this magnetism which is cooler (and appears darker, therefore) compared to the chromospheres of the sun and the corona.
Magnetic reconnection could occur as a result of magnetic field lines getting forced together. Consequently, the solar plasma can be accelerated to relativistic speeds causing intense radiation bursts. These are known as solar flares, and the resultant radiation can reach the Earth in a matter of minutes. However, the CMEs represent bubbles of magnetized high energy plasma ejected into space at a high speed but nowhere close to the relativistic speeds. Relative to the ferocity of an eruption, the CMEs can hit the Earth in a few days or several hours.