An unusually complex magnetic eruption on the sun has flung a large cloud of electrically charged particles towards Earth. When the cloud hits, which could be anytime now, it could spark aurorae in the skies around the poles and pose a threat to satellites – though probably not a particularly severe one.
On 1 August, a small solar flare erupted above sunspot 1092. It would not have raised many eyebrows, except that a large filament of cool gas stretching across the sun's northern hemisphere also chose that moment to explode into space, according to New Scientist.
This plasma is headed straight for the Earth, and when it arrives, could create a spectacular light show.
"This eruption is directed right at us, and is expected to get here early in the day on August 4th," said astronomer Leon Golub of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time."
The eruption itself was caught on camera by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in February.
"We got a beautiful view of this eruption," said Golub. "And there might be more beautiful views to come, if it triggers aurorae."
The Sun goes through a regular activity cycle lasting around 11 years. The last solar maximum occurred in 2001, and the latest minimum has been particularly weak and long lasting, TG Daily reports.