This weekend, there was a solar eruption so powerful that it warped the Sun’s own magnetic field. ESA captured the event, also known as coronal mass ejection (CME), using its Solar Ultraviolet Imager. In the video, you can see the massive explosion as it occurred.
The satellites tracked the solar eruption on November 15, 2023. The Solar Ultraviolet Imager, located on the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) GOES-16 satellite, caught everything on camera. You can see the stream of material spewing out from the Sun’s north pole region. The plasma that was ejected into space was scorching, and the satellite could clearly spot the bright burst.
“After the #CME, energy was released at extremely high speeds – causing temperature variations along the Sun’s magnetic field lines,” ESA wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The energy cracks like a whip as it follows complex arcs of magnetic field many times the size of Earth just above the surface.”
“The CME was so large, that it warped the Sun’s magnetic field,” ESA continues, “disrupting the delicate balance of forces all around our star and causing the large outwards rush of mass.”
What are coronal mass ejections?
We tend to use the terms “coronal mass ejections” and “solar storms” interchangeably. However, they are not exactly the same. Simply put, solar storms are a broader term. They can include CMEs, but also solar flares, and other events that cause disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field.
Coronal mass ejections are eruptions of electrically charged particles from the sun’s corona. They originate from sunspots, which are dark areas on the sun’s surface. In these areas, powerful magnetic field lines often tangle, cross, and reorganize, causing a sudden explosion of energy. This release of energy can eject gigantic plumes of solar material that can travel through space at millions of miles per hour.
CMEs can cause auroras, and we’ve seen plenty of them going all over the world lately. CMEs are most likely to cause auroras when they are directed toward Earth and when they are large and fast. The largest and fastest CMEs can cause auroras to be visible as far south as the United States and Europe. However, even smaller CMEs can cause auroras to be visible in the polar regions.
In extreme cases, events like this could pose a risk to people on both Earth and in space. They could damage power lines on Earth and jeopardize the health of astronauts in space. This is why ESA is “preparing the Vigil mission to provide advanced warning of this kind of potentially hazardous Space Weather event,” the Agency concludes.