Busy Week of Solar Flares

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In the current cycle, solar activity appears to have peaked in early 2014. As such, total solar activity is expected to decrease over the next 4-5 years. That trend has been in place for about 18 months now. But, just because the cycle is past peak, doesn’t mean there won’t be very active periods like the last three days. In the last three days, active regions 2422 and 2423 have produced dozens of flares with 10 exceeding the M-class threshold.

Magnetogram shows active regions
Anotated Magnetogram showing two Active regions

The first M-class flare launched from AR 2422 and peaked with a flux of M1.95 at 10:40AM on September 27th. After that, 11 c-class flares erupted over the next 7 hours before the next flare at M1.03. Over the next three days M-class flares continued to erupt. The largest registered M7.63 at peak.

Flare info screenshot
Flare information screenshot for flare 2015092808 M7.63

Of all the big flares over the last several days, none have shown the clear signature in imagery of launching a CME. Only the most recent M1.19 has shown a hint of releasing a CME. In addition to the imagery, this can be seen in the flare profiles. Each has a growth and decay rate over 3. Typically flares that launch CMEs are longer duration and have lower growth and decay rates.

Did you know you can browse through the flares and see all the flux profiles, timing, and growth and decay rates in the NLN solar flare browser? It is quick and easy to scan through all the recent M-class flares, or to find the most recent X-class flare.

In this animated GIF of the most recent M1.19 flare on September 29th, it is possible to see a hint of coronal dimming:

CME launches after Flare
Potential CME launched from M class flare

In the frames immediately following the flare, notice the darker area just to the North and West of the launch point. This coronal dimming is the indication that a CME may have been launched. The plasma casts a “shadow” as it is between the SDO camera and the Sun. Each frame represents about 15 minutes. Within 12 hours there should be LASCO imagery that will likely show a CME. Looking carefully at the GIF, it appears the CME will not impact Earth as it will likely be mostly North and well West of the Earth-sun line.

As of this writing, there is no indication Aurora hunters should expect northern lights in the next several days. For now, enjoy the amazing display of flare activity.

Happy Hunting

Aurora Dream Week Continues G2/G1 Watch Sept 11 and 12

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This has been a dream week for aurora chasers. There have has been G2 storming four of the last five days. SWPC has predicted that it will continue today and tomorrow as well. A G2 watch is up for today (September 11, 2015), and tomorrow. This storm watch is posted in anticipation of the arrival of a coronal hole high speed stream. Here is the watch graphic from SWPC:

SWPC predicts G2 storming for September 11, 2015
SWPC predicts G2 storming for September 11, 2015

For timing, the expected peak will come overnight in Europe and just as evening is approaching on the East coast. You can see in the NLN 3-day forecast clock the storm is expected to start with G2 storming, then taper to G1 for the next 6-12 hours. In addition to this being perfectly timed for a Friday night – most of us don’t have work the next day – it is falling when the moon is nearly new, so it should be very dark.

Timing on the expected G2 storming Sept 11 and 12, 2015
Timing on the expected G2 storming Sept 11 and 12, 2015

The source of this storm is a coronal hole that was pointed directly at Earth on Sept 8. The size and shape of the hold suggest this should be a good show.

SDO image of large coronal hole
Coronal hole that could potentially impact Earth later this week

As always with these watches, there is a chance we might not get any aurora from this storm. We saw a period of high solar wind speed earlier in the day, and that may have been the entire storm. Space weather scientists and forecasters don’t have enough data coming from satellites and ground based observations to really make the models 100% accurate. If you go out tonight, and there aren’t any aurora, don’t fret, enjoy the stars and know there will be more opportunities.

Happy Hunting!

Labor Day 2015 Aurora Recap Sept 8

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What a great night!

The “Labor Day Surprise Storm” started just as evening was falling in Europe, and continued until about 3:00am EST. The timing was terrific for North America aurora hunters who had almost 6 hours of G2 storming. Aurora pictures streamed in from across the Twitter. These were some of our favorites from the evening, enjoy!

The night started off with a nice green sky from Sweeden:

Maya Hoole then captured this beauty in Inverness Scotland

And in nearby Keswick in Cumbria, North West England, Martin Cambell got this great shot

As sunset traveled West, Iceland joined the party with this from Lake Myvatn

Some of the first American sightings were (not surprisingly) in Maine

Jerome Davis – a newly minted aurora hunter – was next in line with this from Webster, NY

The purples really set in around Iowa as reported by Jason Sydejko of KCCI

Continuing westward, Basehunters captured this “back of cam” still

Finally, one of our favorites (and most retweeted of the night) came from Dave Patrick who drove 70 minutes North in Ontario to get a clear view and captured these spectactular colors along with the Milky way

Thanks to all the hunters who shared their excitment, photographs and adventures with us!

Looking ahead, there is another chance for Aurora later this week as the high speed wind being emitted by this coronal hole is expected to reach Earth. Stay tuned!

SDO image of large coronal hole
Coronal hole that could potentially impact Earth later this week

Happy Hunting