A Moment of Science

Sun Tsunamis and Northern Lights in the Summer!

August 1st was a pretty exciting day on the surface of the sun: flares, tsunamis, and lift offs OH MY!

solar_activity

Photo: NASA

This is a multi-wavelength extreme ultraviolet snapshot of the sun taken by NASA's Goddard telescope on August 1st. Scientists can see lots of major activity including a C3-class solar flare (the white area on the left).

Our sun had quite a busy day. On August 1st NASA observed a C3-class solar flare, a solar tsunami, multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and the list goes on! The CME (coronal mass ejection) was one of the fastest ever recorded, racing towards Earth at 1000 km/sec.

That sounds pretty nerve-racking, but there’s no need to sweat. All of this activity is completely normal. In fact, it happens every 11 years!

The spike in solar activity tells us that the sun is warming up for its next solar maximum. It all has to do with magnetism. A solar maximum is when the sun’s magnetic field is the most distorted, which is why we see so much turbulence.

And there is even better news for avid sky gazers! A solar maximum is the perfect time to catch a glimpse of an aurora borealis, otherwise known as northern lights. This beautiful display is caused by the charged particles, carried by solar winds, that crash into Earth’s atmosphere.

Watch the CME captured by NASA’s STEREO COR1 telescope:

Read More:

  • Spacecraft Observes Coronal Mass Ejection (NASA)
  • What is a Solar Maximum and What Happens (SPACE.com)

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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