In the past few days, a hot, active region on the sun has been lighting it up, at least in terms of solar flares.
Active region 2297, now nicely perched near the center of the solar disk, erupted with a handful of moderate and strong solar flares recently, and shows no signs of letting up. On Wednesday, it emitted an X2 solar flare larger in size than the Earth itself.
On the NOAA space weather scales, this week’s events would be categorized as R2 (moderate) and R3 (strong) radio blackouts.
Radio blackouts occur with flares and impact the sunlit side of earth, most problematic for communicators on high frequency radio links if the sun is overhead. Some airlines use high frequency for in-flight communications; emergency first-responders also make use of it for coordination and control.
What’s particularly interesting about this week’s eruptions is that the parent region is now near the center of the sun as we look at it, and it’s likely that a coronal mass ejection (CME) is now headed toward Earth thanks to the X2 flare.
Region 2297’s earlier eruptions occurred when it was in a less central position, so the launched CME would be, at worst, a side swipe for Earth’s magnetic field. The event on the afternoon of March 11, though, is much more likely to hit nearly head on.
High-latitude aurora watchers take note — the Space Weather Prediction Center is looking for minor magnetic storm activity on March 13. Plus, the sky will be relatively dark with the moon in its last quarter, so lunar light pollution is minimal. Get away from city lights for your best chance of seeing a glow.
The days following may be even more disturbed if Region 2297 has more in it.
The Ides of March? The Roman soothsayers made dire predictions for Caesar. For us, just a head’s up that some nice northern lights may be coming.
Joe Kunches is director of space weather services at Atmospheric and Space Technology Research Associates (ASTRA), based in Boulder, Colo. Kunches was a former lead forecaster and operations chief at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.