Solar storm threat for Earth rises after a helix CME was seen shooting out of the Sun

After a solar flare eruption, a helix-shaped CME was seen erupting out of the Sun. This has raised concerns about whether it can hit the Earth and spark a solar storm. Check details.

| Updated on: Aug 18 2023, 11:23 IST
Do all solar activities like solar storms, CME, impact Earth? This is what NASA says
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1/5 Sun is a source of energy and a lot of activities keep on happening on the fireball. But can Earth be impacted by solar activities? Before we tell you that, it is important to know what solar activity is? According to NASA, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, high-speed solar wind, and solar energetic particles are all forms of solar activity. All solar activity is driven by the solar magnetic field. (NASA)
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2/5 Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth. Because flares are made of photons, they travel out directly from the flare site, so if we can see the flare, we can be impacted by it. (Pixabay)
Solar storm
3/5 Coronal mass ejections, also called CMEs, are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing right through the solar wind. Only when the cloud is aimed at Earth will the CME hit Earth and therefore cause impacts. (NASA)
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4/5 High-speed solar wind streams come from areas on the sun known as coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the sun and usually, only when they are closer to the solar equator, do the winds they produce impact Earth. (NASA)
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5/5 Solar energetic particles are high-energy charged particles, primarily thought to be released by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through the solar wind, high velocity solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they must follow the magnetic field lines that pervade the space between the Sun and the Earth. Therefore, only the charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect the Earth will result in impacts. (NASA)
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Know whether a solar storm can hit the Earth soon. (Pixabay)

This week, the Earth has not been hit by a single solar storm. We have suffered some minor instances of radio blackouts and GPS disruptions due to solar winds, but apart from that, the Sun has remained quiet, even when a highly unstable sunspot, AR3405, has emerged in the Earth's view of the Sun. However, things could be changing. In the late hours of yesterday, strange radio emissions were detected, which is usually a warning sign for a solar flare eruption. Sure enough, a flare was set off and it did release a coronal mass ejection (CME), as per reports. The direction of the CME has not been confirmed so far, but there is a possibility that it could be Earth-bound.

The initial report of a radio emission came from SpaceWeatherLive, an account on X that sends automated alerts for solar activity. It tweeted, “13:00 UTC - Type II Radio Emission. Begin Time: 17/08/2023 12:35 UTC. Estimated Velocity: 617km/sec”. Two things are to be noted here. Type II emission is a moderate amount of emission and the velocity is exceptionally high. The combination of the two would point towards a solar flare eruption, that would be intense enough to send ultraviolet radiations to Earth (hence high velocity), but not intense enough to be categorized as an X-class flare or even a high-M-class flare.

Sure enough, there indeed was an eruption. Ben Davidson, the founder of SpaceWeatherNews, tweeted a video of the eruption with the caption “Plasma eruption on the sun today, erupting in a helix CME”.

Sun blasts a CME, will it hit Earth?

The biggest question right now is just how potent is this CME cloud and whether it will strike the Earth. To answer the first question, it should not be very intense, simply because it was expelled during a small eruption, so it is not likely that a large amount of solar matter could have been hurled into space. However, it should still be enough to spark a G1-G2 geomagnetic storm.

However, it cannot be said whether the helix-shaped CME can hit the Earth or not. Right now, there is not enough information to make a claim either way. However, both NASA and NOAA researchers must be analyzing the data during the eruption and will give an updated forecast in case it indeed is headed for our planet.

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First Published Date: 18 Aug, 11:20 IST