Just returned from a wonderful trip to the island of Maui in Hawaii where Venus shines high in the western sky after sunset and a handful of professional observatories track the comings and goings of wayward satellites, comets and asteroids from a dormant volcano 10,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. I’ll have more Maui astronomy to share with you soon, but for the moment, let’s focus on the sun.
Views of the sun in a variety of wavelengths of light showing the flares from sunspot groups 1875 (top right bright patch) and 1877. Solar Dynamics Observatory
More than one sunspot group has been blasting stuff in Earth’s direction this week. The two largest sunspot groups – active region 1875 and neighboring 1877 – both have complex magnetic fields that have spawned hefty flares. 1875 kicked out a medium M4 flare on Oct. 22 while region 1877 upped the ante with a powerful M9 class flare Wednesday evening CDT.
The M9.3 is just below the X-class flare level, the most energetic category. The material the explosion shot into space appears to be directed toward Earth with a possible arrival this weekend. Should northern lights materialize, a late-rising third quarter moon won’t spoil the show.
With this recent resurgence in solar activity after a summertime lull, things look promising. Space weather forecasters are calling for a 15 percent chance aurora overnight tonight for mid-northern latitudes overnight from earlier coronal mass ejections. Keep a watch – I’ll be out there too.