The sun has been doing some pretty drastic shenanigans lately, but a recent eruption in the distance seems to be absolute scientific gold.
A massive coronal mass ejection (CME) explosion was recorded on the other side of the sun on the night of September 5 GMT, sending a storm of radiation across the solar system. It’s a type known as a halo CME, in which an expanding halo of hot gas can be seen spewing out around the entire sun.
Sometimes that means the CME goes straight to Earth. However, this eruption is far away, so it’s moving away and we won’t see any of the usual effects of solar storms on our home planet.
But Venus is right in the path of the impending storm — and Solar Orbiter, a space probe jointly operated by the European Space Agency and NASA, is currently on its way to gravitational assistance on Sept. 4. Take a close look at our home star near Venus.
This gives us a rare opportunity to observe and measure a large, distant CME, which is usually quite difficult for us.
George Ho, a solar physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told Spaceweather: “This is not an ordinary event. A lot of scientific papers will look at this in the coming years.”
“I can say with certainty that the September 5 event was one of the largest, if not the largest, solar energetic particle (SEP) storms we’ve seen so far since the launch of Solar Orbiter in 2020.”
It’s unclear exactly where the Sun erupted from, but the culprit appears to be a sunspot region called AR 3088, which spun out from behind the Sun’s disk in late August.
SOLAR DISCO: AR3088 Stay Alive – Unleashing light and matter on its journey around the sun. Even in our opinion, it still delivers an amazing performance. Here’s what the region ended up with in 2.5 days with the M2 blast away from us. SDO 171/193/131 🧐🙀🤩😆👋 pic.twitter.com/lXGiUQC3Os
— Dr. C. Alex Young (@TheSunToday) August 31, 2022
When it did, it left behind a parting shot — a massive M2-class flare straight away from Earth.
Helioseismology — the study of oscillations in the Sun’s interior based on surface vibrations — can be used to detect sunspots on the far side of our parent star.
That’s because the buildup of magnetic fields, such as sunspots, affects how fast sound waves bounce off the Sun’s interior.
NASA’s helioseismic measurements suggest that AR 3088 may have grown after it left the side of the sun.
Compared to recent operations with AR3088, it is relatively quiet on the Earth-facing side of the sun. A large eruption occurred in the distance recently. One possible candidate, ole’ AR3088. Helioseismology shows a large area. Probably our old friend. 🧐🌞🙀👏 pic.twitter.com/fjp97I4Sp2
— Dr. C. Alex Young (@TheSunToday) September 6, 2022
There are many spacecraft that may not be able to withstand such a strong solar shock. But, as the name suggests, Solar Orbiter is built to withstand sizable solar impacts.
It is equipped with instruments to measure solar phenomena, including violent eruptions from the sun.
In fact, Solar Orbiter had been in the path of the early CME that erupted on Aug. 30 GMT, just before the gravity-assisted maneuver.
Its instruments recorded significant increases in solar energetic particles during both events. This information can help scientists classify these events and better understand the behavior of the sun and its impact on the space environment.
— George Ho (@mrgho06) September 6, 2022
AR 3088 is still on the far side of the sun, and if it were to reappear, it won’t be for a few days. So it’s entirely possible that when it comes back to us, it will be smaller and quieter.
Currently, everything is quiet on Earth-oriented solar land, with no solar storms on the horizon.
There are several visible sunspot regions, but they all appear to be fairly soft at the moment, with only milder CME eruptions on the near side of the Sun.
However, the Sun is entering the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, so we should see more powerful eruptions in the near future.
If you want to learn about solar weather forecasts and what they mean for Earth, you can follow NOAA’s Space Weather Forecasting Centre, the UK Met Office, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and SpaceWeatherLive’s respective websites.