Are we all gonna die? Probably not, but you would never know it from the hysteria that accompanies these reports of coronal mass ejections that the sun periodically throws our way. The latest X-Class solar flare was ejected from the sun on Thursday morning, and may hit the Earth over the weekend. (Although it is difficult to tell at this point - it could just as easily miss us entirely.)
Massive solar flare headed toward Earth
This solar flare is apparently pretty significantly large, even as solar flares go. The "wind" of charged particles from a solar flare travels at between 1 million and 5 million miles an hour, which means it will reach Earth in 3-5 days from the event. Sources are noting that it could cause Aurora Borealis to appear over the northern United States over this weekend. As an Alaskan I can attest to the fact that seeing the Aurora in the middle of summer is a pretty strange thought!
The Aurora is caused when charged particles from the sun shoot through the Earth's magnetic field. They burst into sheets of color, depending on what type of particle it is. This visible display of the solar wind is truly breath-taking, and I hope that this weekend a lot of people will be able to see it who ordinarily wouldn't. It is one of the most incredible sights on Earth, and something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.
The sun is entering a very active phase of solar activity. A lot of people naturally have connected this to the supposed Mayan 2012 prophecy of the end times and what-not. I have long held that it's a mistake to believe that the end of the Mayan calendar does not equate to a prediction of the end of the world. Every year I buy a calendar, and every year the calendar ends, and you know what? All it means is that it's time to buy another calendar!
A significant solar flare has the potential to disrupt a lot of electronics on Earth, of course. Our power grids have been hardened since the famous massive blackout that hit Quebec in 1989 as a result of a solar flare. And while this current solar flare is big, thankfully it doesn't seem to be "Carrington Event" big. This famous event occurred in 1859, when the largest known solar flare caused telegraph systems to fail, and telegraph pylons to throw sparks, even causing fires in some locations.