Sun eruptions spit plasma at Earth

Those living toward the northern areas of the planet are in for a visual treat over the next couple days, thanks to the sun spitting plasma directly at the planet.

NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

Since Sunday, four eruptions on the sun have sent plasma into space on a crash course for Earth, scientists at NASA have found.

The eruptions, dubbed coronal mass ejections, started early Sunday, NASA said. When the plasma ejected from the eruptions hits the planet, the particles will come down toward the North Pole and South Pole. As they do so, they will hit nitrogen and oxygen, creating a colorful spectacle of green and red lights flying through the sky. According to scientists, the lights will be visible in northern U.S. states, on up to Canada.

The eruptions were caught by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft that offers views of the sun. Scientists there said they were part of the sun awakening from solar minimum--a time where little activity and few sunspots are witnessed on the sun--and moving toward solar maximum, a period of high activity and more sun spots. The period of time between solar minimum and solar maximum is usually 11 years. The last solar maximum occurred in 2001.

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The solar eruption is especially important because of its trajectory. "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time," Leon Golub, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.

At this time, scientists don't know exactly how far south Americans will be able to see the lights show. That said, the light show should be visible around midnight on the East Coast, with subsequent events occurring in the afternoon and evening on Wednesday. See a NASA video of a solar eruption at right.

 

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