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Christmas solar storm likely to hit earth

Last Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 16:02

Washington: A humongous coronal mass ejection (CME) in the shape of an interplanetary bauble cast out from the sun on Christmas day is heading towards out earth and it neighbouring planet mars, NASA scientists have warned.

It’s coming right at us, but they say it shouldn’t hurt too much when it hits.

One of NASA’s twin Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft managed to get a side-on view of the CME racing toward Earth and Mars on Dec. 26.

Also, the veteran NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) nabbed a picture of the CME at around the same time.

All predictions suggested the CME would likely hit us on Dec. 28 and it appears that is going to happen.

Depending on the orientation of the magnetic field wrapped around the CME bubble of highly charged solar particles, there will be a chance of some auroral activity when it hits the Earth’s geomagnetic field.

“There is a 20-40 percent chance of geomagnetic storms! If you live at a high latitude, look out for auroras today,” Discovery News quoted NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory team as tweeting on Wednesday.
Although being hit by a CME is a very well-known phenomenon for Earth, a CME impact on Mars will have a very different effect.

When a CME hits Earth, our planet’s global geomagnetic field deflects the energy, interacts with the CME’s magnetic field and funnels the solar energetic particles toward high latitude regions. The more fierce the geomagnetic storm, the deeper the particles penetrate.

As these particles rain down on high-latitude regions - typically forming an “oval” around the polar caps when viewed from space - interactions between the solar particles and molecules in our atmosphere generate light. The light is known as aurorae.

On Mars, it’s a different story.

The Red Planet does not have a global magnetic field. Whereas Earth’s magnetic field and thick atmosphere protects us from the worst ionizing effects of the sun’s high-energy particles, Mars’ thin atmosphere and insignificant magnetic field allow these CME particles to hit the surface.
Mars is therefore often bathed in the sun’s high-energy particles - a factor that could seriously hamper future human colonization efforts.


First Published: Thursday, December 29, 2011 - 16:02

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