NASA announced this week that a coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted on the sun early Tuesday morning. The phenomenon can send solar particles flying into space, some of which can affect electronic systems in satellites orbiting Earth. The particles can reach Earth one to four days after the eruption.
A CME is not a solar flare, and occurs when the solar atmosphere confined where magnetic fields are closed releases bubbles of gas and magnetic fields. The one spotted this week erupted from the sun as speeds of 450 miles per second, which NASA stated is slow to average for a CME. The eruption was seen by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft.
CME's can also create a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when a CME interacts with the Earth's magnetic field in a certain way, causing solar wind particles to hit the atmosphere over the poles. This causes a rapid drop in the Earth's magnetic field strength, which lasts for around six to twelve hours.
NASA stated that CMEs of the type seen this week "have not usually caused substantial geomagnetic storms." They have, though, put on a light show with auroras near the Earth's poles. NASA predicts that this week's CME is "unlikely to cause disruptions to electrical systems on Earth or interfere with GPS or satellite-based communications systems." The National Weather Service's Space Weather Prediction Center currently predicts a relatively minor geomagnetic storm on Wednesday, with possible weak power grid fluctuations.
(Image courtesy NASA/STEREO)