Space: Solar flares

This past week the Earth was blasted with a coronal mass ejection which showered our atmosphere with radiation.  From the surface of the Earth, this ration is visible in the form of auroras.  As the radiation hits the atmosphere, it excites the particles in the air, creating primarily green (oxygen) and blue (nitrogen) hues in the sky.  For a gallery of recent auroras from this past event, check up the images on the Space Weather web site.  But what causes these ejections?

While coronal mass ejections can occur on their own, they are also triggered by solar flares.  These flares are not visible to the naked eye, but with the right telescopes, you can see their awesome beauty.  Space.comhas a good gallery of solar flares which highlight the different forms they can take as well as their intensity.  With these flares and coronal mass ejections, the radiation released do not just paint our skies with beautiful colors. 

The radiation and radio waves released hamper our satellite communications, electrical systems, and as in this past event the International Space Station.  During the latest event, our astronauts were brought inside the station and shuttle to protect them against high levels of radiation.  Fortunately there does not seem to be an ill-effect experienced by the astronauts, but one of the four gyroscopes which stabilize the space station has malfunctioned.  The station needs only two gyroscopes to maintain its position, so there is still one more back-up in working condition.

There is plenty of information on solar flares available at Space.com and SpaceWeather.com if you are interested in learning more. 

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