Giant sun spot moves back into view

12 11 2014

The Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre is closely monitoring what was the biggest sun spot in the current 11-year solar cycle as it rotates back onto the face of the Sun. When it last faced the Earth it was the largest since 1990 and about 11 times bigger than the Earth or the size of Jupiter. This sunspot was first visible during the last two weeks of October but then moved round the back of the sun. Whilst it has been out of view from many of our monitoring instruments it doesn’t appear to have produced any significant activity.

Sun spot rotates back onto the face of the Sun.

Sun spot rotates back onto the face of the Sun.

Although this is the biggest sunspot for 25 years it doesn’t mean it is very active or that it is more likely anything significant will happen.

Space weather forecasters look for features like the complexity of the magnetic field to determine how active it might be. When this sunspot was visible last month it emitted a couple of strong, and a few moderate, solar flares but nothing out of the ordinary.

The significant events we’re looking for are Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) and to date there have been no CME associated with these flares. CME are eruptions of large amounts of matter and energetic particles from the solar atmosphere that can impact our technology here on Earth.





Space weather brings Northern Lights to UK

11 09 2014

You may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the northern lights in Scotland, and if you are really lucky in northern England and Northern Ireland, late Friday night into Saturday morning. The aurora borealis is caused as a result of activity on the surface of the sun.

Occasionally there are large explosions on the Sun and huge amounts of magnetically charged particles are thrown out into space (Coronal Mass Ejections). If these particles travel towards Earth they interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and increase global geomagnetic activity. The increased activity releases energy into the atmosphere giving off light in the process, which we call the Northern Lights or the aurora borealis.

There are currently two Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) en route to Earth. The first should arrive tonight (Thursday night) giving the earth’s atmosphere a glancing blow, the second is likely to arrive later on Friday. Their combined effect increases the chance of an aurora borealis event Friday night/Saturday morning, particularly at high latitudes in Scotland.

To view the Northern Lights you are best finding a dark place away from street lights. You will need a cloud-free sky and although there will be some cloud and localised fog patches around this Friday night there should also be some clear skies too. So there is a chance of catching a glimpse of the lights. Your best chance of sighting the aurora will be around midnight.

X-Class Flare erupting from The Sun. This event led to an Earth directed Coronal Mass Ejection

 

You can sign-up to receive aurora borealis alerts from the British Geological Survey when there is a chance for aurora activity when there is a chance for aurora activity or tell everyone about your sightings using GeoSocial – Aurora

Keep an eye on the Met Office forecasts for the latest information.





Update: Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

17 05 2013

Updated on 20th May 2013

The recent activity on the Sun has now decreased back to levels we would normally expect at this point in time, close to a maximum of the 11-year solar cycle.

This follows a period where a sunspot, identified as 1748, emitted a number of powerful solar flares which were directed away from Earth.

There was a concern that another eruption from 1748 would be more directly aimed at Earth as it moved round with the Sun’s rotation. However, 1748 has reduced in size and has seen no significant activity for more than 48 hours.

While the risk of impacts on Earth has decreased, it is still possible that high levels of activity will re-emerge from 1748 while it is facing Earth. The Met Office will continue to monitor the situation.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “This sunspot was particularly active last week, sending out one solar flare which was the largest measured for over a year. Fortunately its eruptions were not directed at Earth and we saw very minimal impacts.

“We have observed a decrease in the spot’s activity in the past couple of days and, while a risk remains, we are now at a normal level of activity for this point in the solar cycle.”

 

Previous updates:

Updated on 17th May 2013

As per our blog article published yesterday, the Met Office continues to closely monitor the Sun following a recent surge in its activity related to a sunspot (identified by the number 1748).

This morning saw a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), which is an eruption of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma), from the sunspot. The CME is due to catch Earth with a glancing blow which is not expected to cause any significant impacts.

There remains a low risk through to the end of next week that we could see a CME from 1748 which is aimed more directly at Earth, but after that the risk is expected to diminish.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and provide updates if there are any changes.





Met Office keeping a close eye on space weather

16 05 2013

The Met Office will be keeping a close eye on the Sun over the coming days after a recent surge in its activity.

It’s fairly common for eruptions from the Sun (often called “space weather”) to occur, and these are usually associated with sunspots – dark areas of intense activity on the surface of the star.

The eruptions from these spots come in several different forms, but if the events are of sufficient strength and directed towards the Earth, they can all cause impacts on our modern-day technology. Impacts range from minor interference to communication networks to temporary disruption to electricity supply, satellites and GPS navigation.

Over the past few days a sunspot, identified by the number 1748, has been the cause of many solar eruptions which have already caused some minor impacts.

NASA image showing a solar flare from sunspot 1748

NASA image showing one of the recent solar flares ejecting from sunspot 1748

Some of the eruptions have been in the form of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which are plumes of electromagnetically charged gas (plasma). These have been focused away from Earth so far, but, as the sun rotates, there is a chance the sunspot could emit a CME in our direction.

Mark Gibbs, Head of Space Weather at the Met Office, said: “If a strong CME were to be directed at Earth it could have some disruptive impacts, but at the moment the probability of this happening appears to be low.

“We’ll be keeping a close watch on the situation, particularly from Friday evening onwards, to advise on anything that could cause disruption to help the UK minimise any potential impacts. Hopefully this event will pass without the majority of people noticing, but it’s important we monitor the risk.”

Since February 2011, the Met Office has been working with a range of partners, including the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the UK Space Agency to develop a UK-based space weather forecasting service.

This monitors the Sun’s activity and then predicts how these changes are likely to affect the Earth’s environment. The Met Office Hazard Centre currently has forecasters trained in space weather forecasting, and awareness is being raised across different industry sectors to make them aware of their potential vulnerability and how we can help lessen the risks.

In the event of a CME, space weather monitoring can provide anything from 17 hours to 3 days advance warning – allowing vital time to prepare.

Solar activity is currently expected to be high as we are near the peak of an 11-year solar cycle, which sees the Sun’s activity increase and decrease over the period.

You can see more about space weather forecasting in our Youtube video.





The Met Office and space weather

29 03 2012

The Met Office is commonly associated with producing forecasts for Earth. However, since February 2011, we have been working in partnership with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) to develop a UK-based space weather forecasting service that will monitor the way the Sun’s matter and energy changes and then predicts how these changes are likely to affect the Earth’s environment.

The Sun is constantly moving and changing and often throws out large eruptions of plasma called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) which can cause geomagnetic storms and send currents through power lines if they track towards and reach the Earth. These can then damage transformers and entire power grids. CMEs can also disrupt high frequency radio communications and GPS.

The last major geomagnetic storm affected Quebec, Canada on 13 March 1989 when six million people were plunged into darkness as their power grid failed.

The Met Office Hazard Centre currently has forecasters trained in space weather forecasting, and awareness is being raised across different industry sectors to make them aware of their potential vulnerability and how we can help lessen the risks.

On a slightly different note, many universities are currently using the expertise from the Met Office by utilising our Unified Model of global weather to “forecast the weather” on planets outside of our Solar System, or “exoplanets”. This is not something that the Met Office is independently producing but we are working in partnership with academic and research groups to help them understand how atmospheres react on planets which have different gravitational fields and gases, for example. 

More information can be found about space weather in our online magazine, Barometer.








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