Just in case you forgot, the cosmos can take us out any time it wants.
On August 31st, 2012, a long section of solar material that had been hovering in the sun’s atmosphere — the corona — erupted out into space. This “coronal mass ejection” (CME) traveled at 900 miles per second. Yikes.
I guess the sun didn’t want to be shown up by the blue moon on that same day. You could say that a CME happens once in a blue moon. [cue rimshot -- thank you, I'm here all week]
Luckily, it wasn’t ejected in the direction of Earth, which would have been bad — as you can see from the picture.
The Goddard Space Flight Center says that this amazing CME did, however, “connect with Earth’s magnetic environment with a glancing blow, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.”
Check out the amazing video of the eruption, captured by many of NASA’s solar observatories (but you may want to mute the annoying space techno music):
What causes a coronal mass ejection?
The answer, of course, is fairly nerdy and scientific, but Wikipedia says,
Recent scientific research has shown that the phenomenon of magnetic reconnection is responsible for CME and solar flares. Magnetic reconnection is the name given to the rearrangement of magnetic field lines when two oppositely directed magnetic fields are brought together. This rearrangement is accompanied with a sudden release of energy stored in the original oppositely directed fields.
Was Earth in danger?
CME’s can cause a geomagnetic storm if it interferes with Earth’s magnetic fields, which the CME on August 31st did.
The first CME impact occurred on August 31st, the day of the eruption, and the second happened Wednesday, September 5th. Even though this geomagnetic storm reached “moderate to severe” levels, the only real impact on Earth was an aurora that was visible as far south as Idaho and New York.
Did you happen to see the aurora from this magnificent CME?