Introduction of CME
When intense science stuff needs to be explained, who better to do it than Mr. Sheldon Cooper, B.Sc., M.Sc., M.A., Ph.D., S.D., and Caltech theoretical physicist.
Before that, let me set the scene.
Penny walks into Leonard’s room and greets – Hi Boys! Sorry, I can’t have lunch with you guys today; my friends and I are apparently headed to some light show in the sky to Alaska.
Leonard – To Alaska, I guess the light show you are talking about is Auroras.
No Leonard, not the singer,
He didn’t intend to know about the singer too; Aurora Borealis is a phenomenon. The solar wind is created when charged particles are ejected from the sun’s corona or upper atmosphere. The aurora is formed when a strong wind collides with Earth’s ionosphere or high atmosphere.
Penny, with a blank expression staring at Sheldon.
Seeing Penny Leonard step in, okay, let me explain from basics. Just like the earth, the sun’s atmosphere is divided into zones as Corona, Chromosphere, and Photosphere. The temperature of the outer layer exceeds 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, which makes the Hydrogen molecule lose its electrons, leaving nuclei alone, thereby called plasma. This plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s corona are released into the solar wind is called Coronal Mass Ejection (CME).
When this CME enters the interplanetary space, interacting with our earth’s atmosphere produces those lights.
Sheldon– Okay, Leonard, if your explanation for monkey brains is completed, let the astronomical scientist speak something about it, Raj?
Raj– Normal ejections travel with 9.1 million km/hour takes about 13 hours to 5 days to reach the earth. Thanks to our atmosphere, which absorbs the x-rays and protects us. But an intense ejection referred to as solar flares/ solar storms could interrupt our telecommunication systems.
Sheldon – A little trivia to add –
- The first solar storm reported in 1859, called the Carrington effect, took 17 hours to reach earth and damaged telegraph networks.
- In 1921, New York telegraph and railroad networks were affected.
- And the most recent one reported in 1989 collapsed the power grid of Quebec City, Canada.
Penny – Do you think I was looking for a more scientific explanation when staring at Sheldon?
If you all are done with blabbing whatever you want to, can I go and pack for the little flash show.
A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is a significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona, which is the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere. These ejections can have a substantial impact on space weather and can affect Earth and other celestial bodies in the solar system. Here are some key points about CMEs:
- Formation: CMEs are often associated with solar flares, but they are distinct phenomena. They occur when the Sun’s magnetic fields become twisted and distorted. This can happen due to the Sun’s complex magnetic activity, such as sunspots, solar prominences, and active regions.
- Composition: A CME consists of a massive cloud of charged particles, mainly electrons and protons, along with magnetic fields. These particles are ejected into space at high speeds, typically ranging from 300 to 3,000 kilometers per second (about 186 to 1,864 miles per second).
- Impact on Earth: When a CME is directed toward Earth, it can have various effects on our planet. The most noticeable impact is the disruption of Earth’s magnetosphere, which can lead to geomagnetic storms. These storms can interfere with radio communications, navigation systems, and power grids. They can also lead to beautiful auroras in the polar regions.
- Spacecraft and Satellites: CMEs can pose a threat to spacecraft and satellites in orbit, especially if they are not adequately protected. The high-energy particles from CMEs can damage electronics, disrupt communication, and even pose risks to astronauts in space.
- Warning Systems: Space agencies and observatories, such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), monitor the Sun and its activity. They provide early warnings of CMEs and other solar events, which helps prepare for potential space weather impacts on Earth.
- Mitigation: To mitigate the effects of CMEs on Earth and its technology infrastructure, space agencies and power grid operators take precautions and have contingency plans. For example, power grid operators can temporarily reduce the flow of electricity to protect transformers and other critical equipment.
CMEs are just one aspect of the Sun’s dynamic behavior, and understanding and monitoring them is important for the safety and reliability of technology and infrastructure on Earth and in space.
-by Anusha Velamuri (Content writer Intern)