Massive solar flare will ignite big northern lights show Aug. 4

an image of the sun filtered to show roiling detail on the surface

A massive solar flare will hit Earth late Tuesday night, causing a geomagnetic storm, possible satellite damage and awesome northern lights. thebadastronomer/Flicker photo.

A solar tsunami is what many people are calling a solar flare that will hit Earth late Tuesday night. The solar flare was a huge explosion on the surface of the sun that sent a wave of ionized particles directly toward us. A solar tsunami is the giant circular wave rippling across the surface of the sun caused by the solar flare. NASA is preparing for the possibility of solar flare satellite damage. But the extreme space weather will trigger a spectacular display of northern lights.

Solar flare triggers solar tsunami

The solar flare erupted Sunday morning. The explosion caused a massive solar tsunami across the sun’s surface and blasted a giant wave of ionized atoms on a collision course with Earth’s magnetic field. Fox News reports that the solar flare should hit the planet tonight, creating a geomagnetic storm and a northern lights display of rare intensity that could be seen as far south as the U.K. The space weather could cause solar flare satellite damage, though scientists think that possibility is remote.

Solar tsunami recorded in STEREO

Solar tsunamis emanating from the site of solar flares were confirmed to exist by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). Wired reports that STEREO is two spacecraft pointing at the sun. One spacecraft flies ahead of Earth in its orbit and one flies behind. The tandem produces a stereoscopic image of the sun that presents a three-dimensional view. In February 2009 STEREO confirmed that the solar tsunami was not the shadow of a solar flare, but a 60,000-mile-high wave of super-hot plasma and magnetism blazing across the sun’s surface at 560,000 mph (see video below).

Sunday’s solar flare a rare event

Sunday’s solar flare (see second video) is a rare space weather event. The Telegraph reports that two almost simultaneous solar flares from different locations on the sun were launched toward the Earth. Dr Lucie Green, of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, England, told the Telegraph that the first eruption was so large it changed the magnetic fields throughout half the sun’s visible atmosphere and provided the right conditions for the second eruption. The result could be a major, prolonged geomagnetic storm that triggers solar flare satellite damage and northern lights at low latitudes.

Colorful northern lights display expected

When the solar flares hit the Earth Tuesday, charged particles from the sun will hit the oxygen and nitrogen in the Earth’s upper atmosphere to produce the northern lights. GMTV reports that the charged particles excite the gas atoms into emitting small bursts of energy in the form of light. The color of the light depends on which gas is being excited and by how much. Oxygen emits either a greenish-yellow or a red light, while nitrogen gives off a blue light. The blending of these colors can also produce purples, pinks and white.

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