Earth Says, “I Got A Little Cooked But I’m OK.”

October 27, 2011 at 7:33 am | Posted in Regular Feature, Science News | Leave a comment

Stop worrying about the monsters under the bed. If you’re worried an asteroid of some sort will hit the Earth with an extinction level impact, buck up. It turns out the sun could kill us all much sooner if it has a mind to. The Elenin Comet everyone was all hot and bothered about earlier this year as it worked its way through our solar system broke up a few million miles from the sun last week and died with a whimper. The same sun that fried poor Elenin then celebrated by spitting up its leftovers at us.

Elenin before and after its flyby of sinister Sol.

The sun spewed what is referred to as a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward the Earth. The CME was roughly the circumference of the Earth. It caused a compression of the magnetopause of about 14,000 miles. The magnetopause is the area around the planet that objects in geosynchronous orbit tend to occupy. This left many of our satellites outside their usual environment and hurtling through debris and magnetic fields beyond their design specifications.

The CME resulted in some spectacular auras around the planet. Some were viewed as far south as Alabama. The following photograph was taken by a Mr. Tobias Billing in Independence MO at roughly 2 PM ET on Monday, October 24TH. It shows a rare but spectacular red aura, as opposed to the more common green aura. The red aura and unusually extended geographic visibility are a result of the intensity of this CME.

It seems the northern lights know the Missouri state motto.

An explanation of CMEs from the NASA web site states:

The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields. Where these fields are closed, often above sunspot groups, the confined solar atmosphere can suddenly and violently release bubbles of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections. A large CME can contain a billion tons of matter that can be accelerated to several million miles per hour in a spectacular explosion. Solar material streams out through the interplanetary medium, impacting any planet or spacecraft in its path. CMEs are sometimes associated with flares but can occur independently.

While some CME’s have been known to disable satellites and disrupt communications, it seems we weathered this strong frontal assault fairly well this time. Thankfully the Earth’s magnetopause is equipped to redirect much of the energy and particles the sun throws at us from time to time. It is theorized that our smaller cousin Mars was once covered in liquid water and had an oxygenated atmosphere, but sadly it didn’t have a strong magnetic field and the solar winds eventually eroded the Martian atmosphere away. It caused a runaway greenhouse effect that simmered off its oceans as a result.

"Seven of what now?"

This CME was a 7 out of 9 on what is referred to as the “KP” scale. What that tells me is that there is room on the scale to go two notches higher at least.  So while we seem to have survived this latest CME to target our little blue marble, who knows when the next, far more powerful attack might occur. Get out those tin foil helmets conspiracy buffs. The sky might really be falling soon.

by Revmacd For Roqoo Depot – Where Science Meets Science Fiction

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