This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Solar "Blob" of Plasma Headed our Way

The Sun on January 21, 2012
Sunspot 1401 erupted on January 19
According to Spaceweather.com, sunspot #1401 erupted on Friday around 16:30 UT producing a solar flare and coronal mass ejection (CME). The cloud is heading toward the earth. A

Here is a neat animation of the forecast, showing not only the Earth, but Mars, Mercury and Venus as well as a few spacecraft in orbit. The cloud is expected to hit here on Saturday, around 22:30 UT (plus or minus 7 hours). (The Space Weather Prediction Center has forecast that it will hit at high northern latitudes around 1:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, with the bulk of the disturbance on Monday.) Initially there were apparently fears that this would be a direct blast that could seriously threaten communications and satellites, but the Post reports that it is more likely going to be a glancing blow affecting high latitudes. It will reach Mars on January 24th.

We are heading toward a sunspot maximum in 2013, and sunspot activity and flares like this may increase. Another consequence of increasing sunspot activity is that the UV radiation levels increase from the sunspots. This activity "puffs up" the earth's atmosphere which puts drag on low-altitude space debris, causing it to slow down and eventually fall out of orbit.  Space debris has become a major concern for safety of the astronauts in orbit, and getting rid of some of it in this way is a good thing. I hadn't been aware, but in 2007 the Chinese "killed" one of their weather satellites in a test, creating over 3,000 pieces of debris bigger than golf-ball size. Only 6% of this debris has re-entered the earth's atmosphere.  There was also a collision of Cosmos 2251 and Iridium 33 satellites that created debris.

Could be some good aurora somewhere!

Here's more on CME's and sunspots from earlier posts: (1) The 1859 Solar Superstorm; (2) Solar Activity (and Newt Gingrich)--well, that's relevant today since it's the South Carolina Republican primary vote!!)

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