Active Region 2297 has aurora hunters around the world excited for possible northern lights over the next 3-10 days. The region is now classified beta-delta-gamma, and is rotating further into the Earth “strike zone.” In it’s current location any large flare with a CME could send a plasma cloud towards us activating the magnetosphere and producing aurora.
The region has a history of producing large flares with CMEs. When it was behind the limb, before rotating into view, it produced an M1.2 flare on Thursday March 5th. That flare, and two others that day produced clear CMEs directed too far to the East to impact Earth. Since then, it has produced four M-flares, including a massive long-duration M9 flare. It also produced an eruptive C9 flare. [This evening it produced another M5 flare]. Assuming this trend continues, there is likely to be more M-class flares, a chance for an x-class flare, and likely more CMEs.
The timing is terrific for Aurora hunters. The moon is waning, and with each passing night the sky will be darker. By March 13th, the moon will be in it’s last quarter. It will be a new moon on March 20th. Further, the the spring equinox is approaching. Historically, northern lights are more intense during the Spring and Fall equinoxes. This is likely due to the tilt of the Earth and the Earth’s magnetic fields.
Overall this is shaping up to be a week with excellent aurora potential. We’ll be monitoring the Sun closely. Keep an eye on the twitter NLN feed (@northLightAlert) for updates.
A final note on the topic of solar Flares. NLN has created a time lapse video made from high resolution images from the NOAA SDO satellites. Check it out!
Solar and sunspot activity this week has been between low and very low. In fact, right now there are only 4 sunspot groups and all are magnetically simple Beta groups. Together, they have only 23 sunspots. But, there has been plenty of interesting space weather.
A Large Back-sided CME Eruption and a Beautiful Prominence on the Sun
There were two powerful eruptions on the sun this week. The first was mostly south pointed and clearly back-sided. Because of it’s size and location, it will not have any impact on Earth. It is most likely from the very large filament we noted in the Nov 9 Aurora Brief. This filament held steady, and actually grew, while it was Earth-facing. It rotated off the Western Limb of the solar disk late last week. This filament likely lifted off the surface of the Sun creating the CME that is visible in the LASCO imagery in the video featured in “CMEs, Comet Captured In SOHO/LASCO Imagery 2/20/2015”
The Second CME launched this week was from the Southeast limb of the disk. When CMEs launch from the limb, imaging satellites can capture these eruptions with black space as a background. As a result images of these events are contrast rich and beautiful. Yesterday morning’s eruption produced this stunning image captured in AIA 304:
While this eruption was large, and was associated with a long duration C1 Flare, and displayed a CME on LASCO imagery, and produced an uptick in EPAM, Earth based Aurora watchers will be disappointed. The eruption was too far East and South of the Earth-Sun line to have an impact on our magtosphere. We’ll have to just admire the CME from afar. There should be even better images of this flare available in about 3 days.
Comet SOHO2875 Survives Solar Pass, May Be Visible From Earth
Early this week a comet was spotted in SOHO LASCO imagery, it was numbered then named SOHO2875 and C/2015 D1 (SOHO) respectively. Many Sun watchers first noticed it while viewing the large backsided CME from likely lifting filament. Watch the video closely, and you will see comet SOHO 2275 “sungraze” moving from upper right to lower left in the video we posted in this LASCO timelapse:
This comet is special for a couple reasons. First, it survived the close encounter with the Sun. It was within 1.1 million miles of the Sun, most comets that get this close break up or melt and turn to gas. Second, this comet is not part of the Kreutz Family – a group of comets that visit the sun about every 800 years and break into smaller comets on each pass. It is on a slightly different path that Kreutz comets making it unusual.
After surviving the pass, it developed a tail. There is a possibility that it may become visible in the evening sky over the next several weeks as it gets a little farther from the Sun. Many factors have to come together just right for the comet to be visible, but if it doesn’t break up, and the tail grows, and it continues to reflect enough light as it gets farther from the Sun it may appear in the evening sky near Venus and Mars as a magnitudte 6.5+ body. Keep an eye on your comet tracking apps as they update the track of this one!
G2 Storming from Coronal Hole Wind Stream Provide Great Aurora Viewing Opportunity
Finally, the coronal hole featured in February 24th’s Aurora Brief over-delivered on it’s promise of northern lights activity. KP reached 6 for a brief period just after midnight EST. Sky-watchers around the world uploaded many terrific pictures to the social media feeds we monitor.
Local (to NLN) Vermont photographer Brian Drourr captured a wonderful winterscape at Sand Bar State Park on Lake Champlain with yellows, greens and reds on the horizon. Brian is in the foreground of the photo standing on the frozen lake. It was -15 degrees at the time of the photo – it turned out to be the coldest night of the year. The tweet of his photo:
Another Photo of last night’s activity comes from Dave Patrick. He’s a dedicated Aurora chaser who completed an item on his bucket list with this photo. He captured both light pillars and aurora in the same image. Light pillars form when there are ice crystals in the air, and they reflect man made light from the ground in vertical beams. Light pillars are frequently mistaken for aurora, so it is a special treat to capture both in the same photograph. He says “I wanted to show natural versus man made aurora (light pillars are considered man-made aurora) in a single image of the dark night sky.” This was taken in Fergus, Ontario, Canada.
Finally, Paul Williams was lucky enough to be on a flight from London to New York on a Virgin Atlantic flight during the peak of the storm. This isn’t his first time catching Aurora on this route, so he knew to bring his camera and set up a time lapse. He titled his video “Curtains” and it is mesmerizing. You can see paul’s other pictures on Flickr. Here is “Curtains” on Youtube:
The Earth-facing solar disk has been relatively quiet for the last week. Yesterday, however, SOHO LASCO instruments imaged a pair of CMEs. Concurrent with those CMEs, a comet was visible looping around the Sun in the same images. In this post, we’ll take a look at a time lapse of LASCO imagery and guide you through what is going on. Here’s the video:
Where the images come from: SOHO is the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. It is a spacecraft run jointly by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) that orbits near L1 – that’s the same stable place DSCOVR is headed. It’s primary missing is to image the Sun and Solar atmosphere. It has several cameras aboard, one of those is LASCO.
LASCO stands for Large Angle and Specrometric Cornograph. Effectively, It is a camera pointed at the Sun that is focused such that the Sun is in the center and it is a wide enough angle that it captures an image of space up to 8 sun-diameters in each direction (32 radii total). In order to actually capture the atmosphere of the sun, an arm holds a circular disk in front of the lens to block the Sun itself. In the video, you can see the result – a narrow blocked bar (the arm) from bottom left to center, and the dark circle in the middle. This leaves just the Corona, stars behind, and planets behind the Sun visible.
Lasco is particularly useful for spotting plasma eruptions (CMEs) from the Sun. As the ejecta lifts off the surface of the Sun it becomes visible as bright plumes around the blocked disk. Scientists can measure how large, how wide, and how fast the ejections are moving by studying their signature on the coronagraph.
In this video, the first CME is visible in the Northeast limb between :09 and :12. This is a fairly narrow CME, and given the timelapse, it lasted about 4 hours. The Second CME is much more impressive and launches from the Southwest limb. It is brighter, and it is much wider, appearing to emerge from almost 90 degree of the disk. The second CME can be seen starting around :38 and continuing to the end of the sequence.
Finally, and arguably most interesting, if you watch carefully, you will see a comet looping around the Sun in this image. It is small. The easiest way to see it is by watching the left side of the screen towards the end of the video, you will see it and it’s small tail moving from right to left and slightly up. Now, watch the video again, and see if you can watch it swing from the upper right down around behind the larger CME, and emerge to the South of the sun, then progress behind the Arm, and emerge again.
We’ve taken a screen grab and circled the comet below: