Friday, December 08, 2006

Long Range Effects of a Solar Flare

December 6, 2006 was an exciting day for our Sun. A major solar flare erupted sending millions of tons of ionized particles blasting out into the solar system. This explosion was so powerful, that even ground-based telescopes could see the tsunami-like shock wave propagating across the entire surface of the sun on the following day.

"The prototype of a new solar patrol telescope in New Mexico recorded a tsunami-like shock wave rolling across the visible face of the Sun following a major flare even on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006, at 18:28 Universal Time (11:28 MST). The shock wave, known as a Moreton wave, also destroyed or compressed two filaments of cool gas at opposite sides of the solar hemisphere.

"These large scale 'blast' waves occur infrequently, however, are very powerful. They quickly propagate in a matter of minutes covering the whole Sun, sweeping away filamentary material," said Dr. K. S. Balasubramaniam, of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Sunspot, NM, who is studying these and other phenomena. "It is unusual to see such powerful waves encompassing the whole sun from ground based observatories. Its significance comes from the fact that these waves are occurring near solar minimum, when intense activity is yet to pick up."
At even longer range, we can see the effects here on earth when the blast reaches our magnetosphere and is channeled down towards the poles to generate fantastic light shows. Here is a photo from Vesa Särkelä, taken in Kemijärvi, Finland on Dec. 8, 2006.

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