This spectacular event could be observed closely thanks to Solar Orbiter, which was passing by at this precise moment.
On September 5, astronomers surprised the Sun in full coronal mass ejection (CME). An observation which, in normal times, is not unusual, knowing that these events multiply as the star approaches its peak of activity, expected in 2025. But this event was still remarkable for many reasons, and researchers are already rubbing their hands.
EMCs are bubbles of plasma that are catapulted at high speed by solar flares. If they are directed towards the Earth, they can have very concrete consequences which depend directly on their intensity.
The weakest will have no measurable consequences. The most powerful ones, on the other hand, could cause unprecedented chaos on Earth by instantly destroying a large part of the systems that work with electricity.
And it just so happens that this CME was absolutely gigantic. ” I can safely say that the September 6 event was one of the biggest (if not THE largest) particle storm that we have observed since the launch of the Solar Orbiter in 2020 “, explains George Ho, specialist in heliophysics interviewed by SpaceWeather.
She was so intense that she emerged in a form called ” in full halo “. CMEs generally travel in a specific direction. But in this case, the astronomers were able to observe that in addition to the main CME, the jolt of the Sun also ejected a wave of superheated gas all around the star.
Solar Orbiter was in the right place at the right time
Fortunately for us, the Earth was not in the line of sight; the main ejection is even gone on the other side of the sun, precisely opposite our planet. Good news for the electricity network… but also for the researchers who were able to benefit from a happy combination of circumstances.
Indeed, if the Blue Planet escaped this CME, this is not the case of Venus; the hottest planet in the solar system was just passing by and was hit head-on. However, it turns out that the Solar Orbiter was also stopping in the region at this precise moment; it had just completed an orbital maneuver near Venus to adjust its trajectory relative to the Sun.
This probe dedicated to the exploration of our star, operated jointly by ESA and NASA, was therefore in the front row; she was able to observe this gigantic CME on the other side of our star, which is by definition extremely difficult.
SOLAR DISCO: AR3088 is stayin’ alive – blasting out light and matter on its journey around the Sun. It’s still providing an amazing show even out of our view. Here is a look at the region over 2.5 days ending with its big M2 blast directed away from us. SDO 171/193/131 🧐🙀🤩😆👋
— Dr. C. Alex Young (@TheSunToday)
A taste of the future whims of the Sun
NASA heliophysicist Dr. Alex Young shared the stunning images collected by the probe. We see a gigantic solar prominence, this structure in the form of a loop made up of plasma channeled by intense disturbances of the magnetic field. It is difficult to appreciate the incredible size on these images; these pretty swirls measure several thousand kilometers and are much larger than our planet itself.
For the researchers, it was in any case a real boon. Thanks to the presence of the Solar Orbiter, they were able to collect a large amount of data which already promises to advance knowledge of these eminently complex phenomena. ” This is an event like no other “, rejoices George Ho. “ Many scientific papers will study this over the years to come. “, he assures.
And that’s probably just the beginning; remember that the Sun will reach the peak of its 11-year activity cycle in 2025. There is therefore a good chance that he will throw more and more spectacular anger by then. Heliophysicists can therefore break out the popcorn… but we will also have to knock on wood so that our star does not send us a huge CME, with all the catastrophic consequences that this would entail (see our article).
than the star of absolutely phenomenal proportions