While most of us in the Northern Hemisphere were enjoying some of the longest days of the year, the Sun decided to put on a little show for us, throwing off two M-class solar flares just to make the days a bit more special.
The first flare exploded off the Sun's surface early on Friday, June 21st, and the second was late on Sunday, June 23rd, both registering as 'M2-class' flares.
The view in the video is from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. It resembles something you'd see in an alien movie — what with its dark swirls of green, blue and black, compared to the typical yellow-orange view of the Sun. This is because our familiar view of the Sun is of its surface, which has a temperature of around 5,700 degrees Kelvin, and the above view combines images taken with three different filters that read the light from the Sun at much higher temperatures — ranging from around 630,000 degrees up to 20 million degrees. Therefore, anything cooler than that gets filtered out, a bit like putting on welders' goggles, and everything shows up very dark-looking.
These views of the hottest stuff on the Sun let scientists separate the high energy explosions from the rest, to make it easier to see them and gauge their strength.
Despite the ominous music in the video, these particular solar flares are harmless to us, since they were aimed away from Earth. Even if they were pointed directly at us, the matter thrown off (the coronal mass ejections) wouldn't be of any direct harm to us, as the charged particles in the solar plasma would simply bounce of our planet's magnetic field. However, when our magnetic field is hit by these explosions, it can cause changes in the radiation belts that surround our planet, and spark geomagnetic storms that can cause disruptions to satellites and even power blackouts on the Earth's surface (if the flare was strong enough).
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The two 'Active Regions' that produced these flares — AR1777 and AR1778 — are currently on the Sun's 'eastern limb', which are rotating in our direction. According to spaceweather.com, these active regions, as well as two others (AR1775 and AR1776), have complex 'beta-gamma' magnetic fields that could "harbour energy for significant eruptions." As I mentioned a little over a week ago, when a massive Earth-dwarfing solar prominence was erupting from the Sun, these solar flares and prominences are caused by the Sun's magnetic field poking out from its surface. So, it's the strength and the organization of these magnetic fields that determines the potential, and the strength, of any solar flares.
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