By David F. Rooney
If you like taking spectacular photos you’ll definitely want to break out your camera tonight.
A coronal mass ejection (CME) propelled toward Earth by an X5-class solar flare is expected to reach our planet on March 8 at 0625 UT (+/- 7 hr). That’s at about 10:25 pm tonight, Wednesday, March 7.
According to the SpaceWeather.com website the flare was unleashed from sunspot AR1429. Analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, who prepared the CME’s forecast track, say the impact could spark a strong-to-severe geomagnetic storm. Sky watchers at all latitudes should be alert for auroras. You can sign up for Aurora alerts here: text, phone.
There are 3 categories of solar flares: X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.
A mild geomagnetic storm is already underway, following a lesser CME impact that occurred on March 7 around 0400 UT. Shortly after the cloud arrived, a burst of Northern Lights appeared over the Canada-US border.
You can see some spectacular aurora photos at the SpaceWeather.com website, which tracks solar flares, Near Earth Asteroid flybys and other phenomena in our immediate solar neighbourhood.