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Dragonfire
01-17-2013, 12:24 PM
It might sound scary to hear that a giant blob of solar plasma is heading straight for us, but don't panic: Space weather forecasters say this solar outburst should deliver nothing more than a spectacular show up north.

"We're not going to be in for a big disturbance," said Norm Cohen, senior forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado. "The northern tier of the United States might be able to see aurorae."

The outburst of electrically charged plasma — also known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME — blasted out from the sun on Jan. 13, sparking a radio blackout. It's taken several days for the blob itself to travel the 93 million miles between the sun and here, but forecasters now expect it to sweep over Earth's magnetic field early to midday Thursday.

When strong solar storms interact with the magnetosphere, they can spark satellite outages and disrupt electric power grids. Fortunately, this one shouldn't be that strong. (In geekspeak, let's just say that the maximum Kp is expected to reach no higher than 4. NOAA's space weather scale lays out the effects associated with higher Kp levels. Check out the prediction center's Facebook page for space weather updates.)

The most visible effect should be the northern lights generated by the interaction between the electrically charged solar particles and atoms in Earth's upper atmosphere, as explained on the "Causes of Color" website. This week's geomagnetic flare-up should add to what's already been a great week for auroral displays in northern latitudes.

Chad Blakley, a photographer at Sweden's Abisko National Park, sent in the beauty you see above. "It looks like there may be more powerful auroras in the days ahead," Blakley said in an email. "It is a very good time to be an aurora photographer!"

For more of Blakley's beauties, check out the Lights Over Lapland website or the LOL Facebook page.

Glowing reports are coming in from space as well. Here's a picture captured by the Department of Defense's DMSP F-18 OLS low-light imager on Jan. 13. The green outlines show Ireland and Britain down south, and Iceland and Scandinavia up north. The ghostly wisps crossing the frame are the northern lights. It's conceivable that the bright streaks you see in this satellite picture are the same ones visible in Blakley's pictures.

More here: http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/16/16549532-a-solar-blob-is-coming-but-this-show-wont-be-scary?lite