|Coronal Mass Ejection on 15 March 2013 as captured by the ESA and NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)|
A coronal mass ejection (CME) happens when the sun releases magnetic energy into space. It is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields coming from the solar corona (the Sun's plasma-type atmosphere). Billions of tons of solar particles are ejected during a CME and when these reach the Earth can cause geomagnetic storms that may disrupt electronic instruments, satellites and even power grids on the planet.
Not all CMEs affect the Earth. It all depends on the trajectory of the solar particles . The speed on which coronal mass ejection reach the Earth differs from solar flares. Solar flares travel at the speed of light and reaches the planet in eight minutes. CMEs are not made of light and usually takes one to three days before reaching the Earth.
On 15 March 2013 at 2:54am EDR, a CME was detected by the ESA and NASA Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Particles detected during this CME show that it is travelling towards the Earth at around 900 miles a second and may cause mild to moderate effects on the Earth.
Preparing for Oncoming Geomagnetic Storm
The NASA research models also show that the CME may pass by the Spitzer and Messenger spacecraft. NASA has notified their mission operators. There is, however, only minor particle radiation associated with this event, which is what would normally concern operators of interplanetary spacecraft since the particles can trip on board computer electronics.
Video: How Sun and Space Weather Affect The Earth
Not to be confused with a solar flare, a CME is a solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and reach Earth one to three days later. Earth-directed CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they connect with the outside of the Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. In the past, geomagnetic storms caused by CMEs such as this one have usually been of mild to medium strength.
NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center is the United States Government official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.
Earth-Directed Coronal Mass Ejection From the Sun
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