Friday, September 09, 2005

Active Sun WARNING

My favorite time of year is approaching: Autumn.

Why? Because of the increased likelihood to see Auroras (Northern Lights) in my location.

This week, sunspot number 798 has rotated into view, and is currently extremely active. On 9/7/2005, it belched out an X17-class flare (as I type this, we're experiencing elevated spaceweather conditions due to a glancing blow from the resulting CME). Over the course of the past day, there have been two separate X-Class flares, and a whole bunch of M-Class flares.

X-Class, M-Class... How big are these?

Well, think of fishing. An inactive sun is like catching a tiny fish (minnow or maybe a small bluegill). These are class A and B flares.

Class C flares are like catching a fish that's big enough to eat. Nothing that you would necessarily put on your wall, though.

Class M flares are significant, and can kick up auroras. These are like catching something like a Walleye to a Salmon, and you have to struggle to reel it in.

Class X flares are the big ones. These are powerful, and if Earth-directed, will almost always kick up auroras. For these fish, you're on a boat in the open sea. You have to be strapped in or else the fish might take you off of the boat with it.

The big Class X flares (X10 and bigger) are more like whaling than fishing. The one the other day is a like a dolphin or small orca Shamu at Sea World (Note: I was initially wrong about how big X17 is--this flare actually made the record books as the 4th largest since 1976). The biggest one that I've "witnessed" was like the size of that Sperm Whale that exploded last year in Taiwan.

There's always the possibility of a huge Blue Whale being ejected from the Sun. That would cause some damage here, though.

Suddenly, this is sounding more like a Douglas Adams novel than a blog post....