Huge Explosion on the Farside of the Sun

Feb. 17, 2022: New images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) are giving us a better look at yesterday’s farside explosion. SOHO coronagraphs recorded the most dramatic CME in years:

No, there won’t be a geomagnetic storm. The explosion happened on the farside of the sun, so the CME is heading away from Earth. We dodged a bullet.

Some readers have asked “How strong was the underlying solar flare?” We don’t know. Solar flares are classified by their X-ray output, but there are no spacecraft on the farside of the sun with X-ray sensors. Best guess: It was an X-flare.

You might suppose that the farside of the sun is hidden from view. However, researchers using a technique called “helioseismology” can make crude maps of the sun’s hidden hemisphere. Their latest map reveals a huge farside active region:

The black blob is a sunspot group–a big one–and it is the likely source of the explosion. According to Junwei Zhao of Stanford University’s helioseismology group, active regions this large are rare. “This is only the second farside active region of this size since September 2017,” he says.

Lucas Guliano, a solar scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, believes the active region might be an old friend: AR2936, a sunspot that was on the Earthside of the sun in early February.

“If so, it is the same sunspot responsible for the geomagnetic storm that downed the SpaceX satellites on Feb. 4th,” he says.

Apparently it has grown since then. Based on its current location, the sunspot could emerge into view over the sun’s northeastern limb about 4 days from now. It could be quite a sight, so stay tuned. Solar flare alerts: SMS Text.

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