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X17 Solar Flare Sends 2B Tons of Plasma at Earth 473

Dr. Zowie writes "This morning a very large solar flare erupted from a large sunspot group that is crossing the face of the Sun. The explosion sent over 2 billion tons of material hurtling across the solar system toward Earth. Movies from the SOHO spacecraft show the flare in UV and the associated coronal mass ejection in visible light as they happened, and the impact of high energy protons that the flare launched at about half the speed of light. NOAA's Space Environment Center shows that the Sun's X-ray brightness went up 100x during the flare. Expect more aurora and geomagnetic effects in the next day or two!"
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X17 Solar Flare Sends 2B Tons of Plasma at Earth

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  • So will I be able to see an aurora from my latitude when it hits (40 deg. N)? And when will it hit earth, and over what time period?
    • Re:So will I ... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:46PM (#7331953) has an interesting service that will page you if there is an aurora in your locality. Check it out.
    • Re:So will I ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Donwulff ( 27374 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:49PM (#7331999)
      These events are already causing a slashdot effect on the solar weather sites without Slashdot even mentioning them, so here's a copy of the best report I've come across, from

      Event #49 - 28 October 2003

      Issued: 16:30 UTC, 28 October 2003


      Class X17.2 Flare in Region 486 at 11:10 UTC on 28 October 2003
      Type II: 1250 km/sec
      Estimated LASCO-derived Plane of Sky Velocity: 2125 km/sec


      Estimated Impact Window: 00:00 UTC on 29 October to 21:00 UTC on 29 October
      Preferred Predicted Impact Time: 08:00 UTC, 29 October 2003 (3 am EST on 29 October)
      Estimated Shock Strength (0=Weakest, 9=Strongest): 9

      Predicted Behavior of IMF at Shock Impact

      At Shock Impact, the Interplanetary Magnetic Field is predicted to initially turn:

      The preferred time of arrival is ***TONIGHT***, TUESDAY NIGHT (before you go to bed that night) near or after 3 am Eastern Standard Time).
      That's 2 am Central Standard Time on TONIGHT.
      That's 1 am Mountain Standard Time on TONIGHT.
      That's MIDNIGHT Pacific Standard Time on TONIGHT.


      EVENT #49 NOTES:

      This is the most energetic Earthward-directed event of the solar cycle.

      SEVERE to MAJOR geomagnetic storming is expected to abruptly commence following the arrival of the shock front from this flare.

      This flare was associated with a Ground-Level Event. It was also associated with very high energy protons at greater than 100 MeV (which are still climbing, over 5 hours after the event began). A magnetic crochet was observed over the daylit sections of the ionosphere. An exceptionally intense shortwave fadeout and polar cap absorption event are in progress. There are reports this event was observed in white-light. Intense radio bursts were associated with this event across the spectrum. The type II shock velocity is not representative of the observed velocity of this CME. The observed velocity as determined by SOHO was 2125 km/sec.

      This event has the potential to produce the strongest geomagnetic storm since 1989. Auroral activity could become visible into the deep low latitude regions. This one is worth driving a good long distance over to find clear skies. It has better potential to produce low-latitude aurora than almost any other event observed in the past decade. Keep in mind that it is also possible the disturbance may not be nearly as geoeffective as many would like. It all depends on the character of the magnetic fields imbedded within the coronal mass ejection. However, we believe it will either be very large, or only modestly large in terms of its capacity to produce disturbed geomagnetic and auroral activity. We do not expect this disturbance to be small.

      These predictions may be based on preliminary data and may be revised without warning. The predictions should not be used as a definitive indication of CME impact times or strengths and may frequently be in error. The proprietary methods used to estimate shock impact times are under continual development. Caution is advised.
    • well, I'm looking forward to it. I live at 69 deg. N, where we can watch aurora about every night.. (-: This one's going to be beatiful, tough, if the weather allows.
  • by mandalayx ( 674042 ) * on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:45PM (#7331928) Journal
    My first response to the article was "WTF?" but I decided to do something more productive than that. Perhaps you might find this more accessible to you as well:

    The Sun today unleashed what appears to be the third most powerful flare in recorded history, a storm of charged particles that could hit Earth mid-day Wednesday with more effect than any since 1989, when an entire Canadian province had its power knocked out.

    Depending on the storm's magnetic orientation, it could set off a dramatic display of colorful northern lights well into mid-latitudes of the United States and Europe.

    Meanwhile, satellite operators and power grid managers are preparing to endure a potentially damaging event. And astronauts aboard the International Space Station have taken cover from heavier radiation sent out by the flare. They are not expected to be in any serious danger.

    Kicked up at 6 a.m. EST (1100 UT) today, the major solar outburst comes on the heels of four other flares late last week and over the weekend. All were considered fairly severe, but the latest eruption makes the others seem like solar sneezes.

    Today's blast is classified as an X17, where X denotes a major flare and larger numbers are stronger. That compares to two flare-ups over the weekend that were rated less than X2.

    "The flare today may be the third strongest X-flare on record," said Paal Brekke, deputy project scientist for the SOHO spacecraft, which first spotted the event.

    A slightly stronger flare on April 2, 2001 was not pointed at Earth. Today's storm is headed directly at us and could generate fantastic colorful lights in the atmosphere, known as aurora. The storm associated with the flare is called a coronal mass ejection, an expanding bubble of charged particles that race outward.

    more []
  • by Vinson Massif ( 88315 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:45PM (#7331929) Homepage

  • by blitzoid ( 618964 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:45PM (#7331938) Homepage
    Now I can put out my plasma nets and catch some of it. I was beginning to worry that I'd never be able to restock my dwindling supply!
  • by pheared ( 446683 ) <> on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:46PM (#7331939) Homepage
    Skinner: Ah, there's nothing more exciting than science. You get all
    the fun of sitting still, being quiet, writing down numbers,
    paying attention...[chuckles] Science has it all.
  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Eric_Cartman_South_P ( 594330 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:46PM (#7331948)
    Now we can expect a lot more of those lame "no carrier" posts on Wed. Although for once, they could be for real since the interf32#@a#%$ATDT01[NO CARRIER]

    • Re:Great... (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chester K ( 145560 )
      Now we can expect a lot more of those lame "no carrier" posts on Wed.

      Hey, you know if you didn't like my sig, you could have just told me. :(
  • hrmm.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xao gypsie ( 641755 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:46PM (#7331955)
    this will prolly get modded down, but it looks as if Shamash, the mesopotamian sun-god is finally voicing his opinion.....

  • by windows ( 452268 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:47PM (#7331957)
    The sunspot cycle (which takes 11 years) peaked in 2000, yet there's an unusually large amount of activity of late. There was a somewhat intense solar flare a few days ago, and now this one, which is believed to be the third-largest one on record. Are there any explanations for this large amount of activity at what should be a non-peak time?
    • The 11 years sunspot cycle merely means that it is almost a guarantee that the sun will have peak sunspot activity every 11 years, it doesn't mean that there wouldn't be any activity between the two peaks.>BR> Crazy explanations... 1. Black hole collided very far away, the gravity wave it generate hits the sun. 2. A hypernova occured, and a significant amount of gamma radiatiobn just happened to hit the sun and misses the earth. 3. The sun is sentient, and was throwing a tantrum. 4. An alien decided t
    • by isaac ( 2852 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:11PM (#7332273)
      The sunspot cycle (which takes 11 years) peaked in 2000, yet there's an unusually large amount of activity of late. There was a somewhat intense solar flare a few days ago, and now this one, which is believed to be the third-largest one on record. Are there any explanations for this large amount of activity at what should be a non-peak time?

      Let's see:

      • The roughly-11-year solar cycle is just based on observation and correlation. It lets one make certain predictions about the likelihood of solar events, but that's all.
      • Recorded history isn't very long compared to the sun's age, to say nothing of the still-shorter track record of scientific solar observation. The sun may (and probably does) exhibit other epicyclic phenomena on timescales too long for us to have directly measured.

      That's a start. Just because we're past the predicted peak of current cycle doesn't mean there won't be solar activity.


    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:16PM (#7332318)
      Are there any explanations for this large amount of activity at what should be a non-peak time?

      Yes - it's not a large amount during a non-peak time.

      It's a normal amount for this time period, the only difference is that the recent ones are actually being sent towards us, so they affect us more..

      CME's are a pretty regular occurrence, and they do follow an 11-year cycle, but most of them never affect us, because we're not in the path of the flare. (Think about it - the earth occupies a pretty small percentage of real estate around the sun - so there's a pretty small chance that a CME will send stuff our way.)

      The amount is normal for this time period, it's just that the recent ones are aimed at us.
    • "Are there any explanations for this large amount of activity at what should be a non-peak time?"

      I'd love to hear this question on the Art Bell show. I'm sure somebody would come up with a creative, yet strangely plausible reason that humans cause this. "It's radio man, we started using radio and the sun is allergic to it."
    • Are there any explanations for this large amount of activity at what should be a non-peak time?

      These strong solar flares are from global warming because evil Bush not signing the Kyoto accord.
    • Recall that the sunspot cycle actually refers to the number of sunspots visible at a given time. As someone already pointed out, flaring can occur whether or not the actual number of visible sunspots is high

      Flares occur to relax the magnet field gradiant. This gradiant is correlated with sunspot size which, in turn, is correlated with sunspot number. Larger sunspots are correlated with solar max and are anti-correlated with solar min. But, just like earth weather throws a curveball, you can get atypic
    • Well duh. It's obviously President Bush's fault. Our increased reliance on fossil-fuels has always been a major problem. And then he goes and abandons Kyoto. Not to mention his lack of activity on curbing SUV growth. *sigh*. I'm just not surprised that this didn't happen sooner...
  • by grocer ( 718489 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:47PM (#7331958)
    Time to find the ethernet cables and plug in all those wireless laptops...

    No 802.11b, 1 year!
  • by rf0 ( 159958 )
    Well suppose its time to get out the factor 5000 and lay on the beach.

  • next day or two? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:47PM (#7331966)
    Why next day or two? At the half of speed of light, this stuff should hit us in about 16 minutes. So you can't really "prepare" for something like this. What am I missing?
    • Re:next day or two? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Donwulff ( 27374 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:55PM (#7332091)
      They had an odd way of putting this. The proton flare caused a solar storm which hit Earth within minutes of the flare commencing. However, the associated CME is significantly slower (Still over 2000 kilometers per second) and will hit within hours. The CME will have higher total energy and is what will cause fluctuations in the gemmagnetic field, ie. a gemomagnetic storm. "Next day or two" is probably because they didn't know this was a high-speed event yet.
    • I was thinking that it might continue as long as that large sunspot group is directly pointed towards us. I'm not sure if sunspot activity comes in clusters or not, though.
    • how to prepare (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tumbleweed ( 3706 )
      Duck...and COVER!

      alternate plan:

      Turn off your cellphone, place your hands behind your head, put your head between your knees, and kiss your data communications goodbye. For a little while. And don't forget to stare at the pretty Northern Lights tonight! (hopefully)
  • I'll have to take off my tinfoil hat!

    I knew it... sooner or later those evil aliens would find a way to read my mind.
  • Way cool... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kr3m3Puff ( 413047 ) * <<me> <at> <>> on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:49PM (#7331998) Homepage Journal
    I have to just admit the awe I have in watching the SOHO Video... that is just totally amazing. Makes you feel teeny weenie small, doesn't it?

    Forget Iraq, the 2004 Election, the economy...

    And people question our space exploration budget!!! Silly people!

    • Re:Way cool... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sunking2 ( 521698 )
      Insightful how? Chances are that this extremely rare and incredibly powerful event will have absolutely no impact on us here in Earth. The thought of the Sun going bonkers and doing something terrible likely doesn't cause even the experts in the field to lose a winks sleep at night. Compare that to the chances of some fringe terrorist group getting a hold of a nuke or causing some other catastrophy. Where is the money better spent again? But then again, for the [b|m]illions of dollars we could get some re
    • you took the words straight outta my mouth.....I feel that way every single time I read up something about the universe/astronomy....just makes our problems/wars etc feel small and insignificant.

      oh well, back to work :(
      • I feel that way every single time I read up something about the universe/astronomy.

        If it makes you feel like that reading about it, imagine what it must feel like to do it yourself. I observed some wonderful sunspots Sunday afternoon. The night before I observed several star clusters, a couple of nebulae, and, for good measure, spent some quality time with Mars. It clouded over before Saturn was high enough for good observation.


        • I'm trying to hunt down some local space-watcher's group in the Boston area, who can recommend the best location/time to watch the expected Auroras tonight.
    • I want a small-office/home-office spacecraft! I didn't even know you could get those!

      (runs off to Staples...)

    • I have to just admit the awe I have in watching the SOHO Video... that is just totally amazing. Makes you feel teeny weenie small, doesn't it?

      Yeah but it's missing all of the space sounds! What a ripoff! ;)

  • by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) * <mrpuffypants&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:51PM (#7332019)
    If we don't stop these constant barrages from the Sun then the terrorists will win!
  • I thought this story was a dupe, but it turns out that this [] was what I was thinking of.

    For those wondering, the link is a /. story about a huge flare in 1859 that knocked out communications across the northern hemisphere.
  • No Kyoto (Score:5, Funny)

    by FrankDrebin ( 238464 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:52PM (#7332035) Homepage

    Thank god we've got all that extra CO2 in the atmosphere to protect us!

  • So, this supports the previous story []! Bravo SlashDot!
  • We should have let X10 keep there pop unders with out charging them the fee for patent infringement. Now there mad and have launched there improved X17 plasma at us!
  • by southpolesammy ( 150094 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:52PM (#7332045) Journal
    That blast on the last few frames of the CME mpg [] file is the CME that occured earlier today. The end of the movie looks like someone polka-dotted the screen, but from the NOAA's website, that's actually the high-charged protons from the CME hitting the camera's lens. This is one whopper of a storm.
  • by grsiepka ( 709002 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:53PM (#7332065) Journal
    We have probably 30-40 different Sun servers at our shop that actually are affected by this. I guess (it sounds stupid as hell but its true) certain models of Sun's 400 mhz processors (used in anything from Ultra 10's to E4500's) were not shielded properly and actually can panic when substantial CME's like this occur.
  • Is it getting warmer in here, or is it just me?
  • by Bombcar ( 16057 )
    This is just what California needs! And we thought the fires couldn't get any worse.....

    In other news today, California requested 3000 Intergalactic Firemen.....
  • by Winterblink ( 575267 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @04:56PM (#7332095) Homepage
    I told the sun last night that those eight beef soft taco supremes were a bad idea. But did he listen to me? NOOOooooo.
  • The explosion sent over 2 billion tons of material hurtling across the solar system toward Earth.

    Am I the only one worried that this sounds like one big pile of something that could whack into Earth? Or is it just a bazillion tiny particles that add up to 2 billion tons?

  • by n9fzx ( 128488 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:04PM (#7332200) Homepage Journal
    Note that as an X17, this flare is 10x the size of last week's little girly man X6 (log scale). And, unlike the X20 of two years ago, we're directly in its path. So, the resulting aurora should be on par with the 1989 event.

    Batten down those scintillation counters! Unhook the HF radios!

  • by contrabassoon ( 532058 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:05PM (#7332208) Journal
    You may notice Radio TV, and even cell phones will be effected (briefly) by this storm. I am on a Broadcast Engineer's mailing list and there have been sporadic reports of problems in the last few days.

    The engineer at WBRC reported a rash of viewer calls in the past few days about reception problems including a call from a distant (100 miles) cable system with 4 separate headends, each exhibiting the same poor signal for minutes at a time then clears up.

    Also, NOAA describes the geomagnetic affects on radio blackouts as "severe" in the last 24 hours . []
    Are any of you having similar listener/viewer complaints?
  • Ok, here's my new pet theory, stop me if you've heard it. It wasn't an astroid that knocked out the dinosaurs, it was a severe period of solar storms.

    Interesting, non?
    • Yes, if you could find an explanation for why severe solar storms would cause a very fine layer of iridium at the K-T boundary. [Ok, I know it was a joke: THE END IS NEAR and all that, but what can I say, I'm a born pedant.]
  • The solar flares will burn all life from the Eart-

    What? You mean they already hit us and nothing happened?

    Never mind.
  • Check out the one that happened on July 14th, 2000:
    here []
  • Finally... (Score:3, Funny)

    by still cynical ( 17020 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:21PM (#7332372) Homepage
    ...that tinfoil lining will come in handy.
  • by BDew ( 202321 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:22PM (#7332383)
    Due to a fight on Capitol Hill, NOAA's Space Environment Center (which tracks these events and other 'space weather' items) will not have any funding in 2004. The part of Congress that oversees NOAA does not think NOAA should have to pay for this, and has decided to cancel its funding in hopes that they can force NASA or the Air Force to pick up the tab.

    There is a hearing on the situation on Thursday the 30th. 128.htm
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:27PM (#7332427) Homepage Journal
    The mighty and powerful X10 Corporation is now exacting its revenge upon its enemies! No popunders, you say? Fine! They have now upgraded from X10 to X17, and instead of simply displaying popunder windows they will now bombard the Earth with fireballs!

    (...and the followers of Mammon shall tremble.)
  • why bother fighting over oil when there is so much free plasma to be had? 2 billion tons of plasma is enough power for 500,000 people.
  • This may be purely coincidental, but I see myself and others around me acting much wackier than normal since friday. Included are a couple of meetings that just were completely bizzare because we couldn't focus on the subject, a strange car accident in the parking lot where an SUV drove over three other cars for whatever reason...

    Anyone else notice an elevated wackiness level?
  • by ashitaka ( 27544 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:30PM (#7332454) Homepage
    It's cloudy and rainy in Vancouver. :-(

  • Obligatory (Score:4, Informative)

    by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @05:31PM (#7332465) Journal
    torrent link [] since the movies were getting a bit sluggish :)
  • We need to be sending people to Titan to study those damn machines. We can't let the "Others" destroy us as well...
  • ...2 billion tons of material...
    How much is that in elephants?
  • We need to get a hot red head to stand in the middle of a circle half naked and stare up at the sun before it moves and decides it wants to crash into the earth!!!!
  • by cybrthng ( 22291 ) on Tuesday October 28, 2003 @06:10PM (#7332839) Journal
    If you watch this mpeg [ 8/c2cme.mpg] CME Snowstorm [] and watch the comet in the lower right corner zoom in, you see the major eruption.

    Pretty nifty! It states a comment should vaporize before impacting, but it is still kind of ironic!

    I bet it was an alien spaceship or missile and its doomsday! :P

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern