Giant gas halo from sun caught on camera
(CNN) -- After a period of relative calm, the sun has become rather spirited in recent days, unleashing a picturesque full-halo eruption of electrified gas and another powerful shot that could strike Earth.
On Tuesday, a solar salvo seemed to explode in all directions from the sun, a so-called full-halo coronal mass ejection, which the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)caught on camera.
"The images are bright and clear. It's a good picture of what a [coronal mass ejection] with a full halo looks like," said Stein Haugan, a scientist who studies data from SOHO, a sun-watching satellite operated by the European Space Agency and NASA.
The storm most likely originated on the other side of the sun and is heading away from Earth. But a similar outburst from Monday could buffet the Earth sometime Wednesday or Thursday, according to SOHO astronomers.
Coronal mass ejections are solar outbursts that spew billions of tons of ionized gas and particles into the solar system.
Those that strike the Earth can distort its magnetic field, which sometimes disrupts radio and satellite communications and produces colorful sky displays known as auroras.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center determined that the solar flare that sparked the Monday outburst was a comparatively strong one.
The agency's forecasters estimate a 10 percent chance of severe geomagnetic activity when it arrives.
But the eventual effect from this particular storm, if any, could be minor compared with those associated with severe or extreme flares, solar scientists said.
"There's a chance there will be auroras [Wednesday night], but probably they won't be seen in most of the mainland United States," Haugan said.
Sky watchers closer to the North and South Pole regions, however, should have a better chance of observing the nocturnal lights.
The region of the sun that likely spawned the Monday storm was sunspot 30, a string of dark, highly magnetized blobs on the surface of the sun that stretch the length of 15 Earths.
Scientists said that the area could spawn more coronal mass ejections as it moves across the face of the sun.
"We're watching this region carefully as it has the power to grow," said Norm Cohen, a forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The active region will stay in sight until it departs the visible disk Tuesday.
The sun seemed to have reached the peak of an 11-year cycle of activity in summer 2000. Since then it has gradually become quieter but occasionally perks up and produces strong solar storms.
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