With the help of data from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and
the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) NASA models have now provided more information about the two CMEs associated with the two March 6 flares. The first is traveling faster than 1300 miles per second, the second more than 1100 miles per second. NASA’s models predict that the CMEs will impact both Earth and Mars, as well as pass by several NASA spacecraft, Messenger, Spitzer, and STEREO-B. The models also predict that the leading edge of the first CME will reach Earth at about 1:25 AM EST on the morning of March 8 (plus or minus 7 hours). Such a CME could result in a severe geomagnetic storm, causing aurora at low latitudes, with possible disruption to high frequency radio communication, global positioning systems (GPS), and power grids. The sun erupted with one of the largest solar flares of the solar cycle on March 6, 2012 at 7PM EST. This flare was categorized as an X5.4, making it the second largest flare, after an X6.9 on August 9, 2011. The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the sun’s normal 11-year of the solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013. About an hour later, at 8:14 PM ET, March 6, the same region let loose an X1.3 class flare. An X1 is 5 times smaller than an X5 flare. These X-class flares erupted from an active region named AR 1429 that rotated into view on March 2. Prior to this, the region had already produced numerous M-class and one X-class flare. The region continues to rotate across the front of the sun, so the March 6 flare was more Earthward facing than the previous ones. It triggered a temporary radio blackout on the sunlit side of Earth that interfered with radio navigation and short wave radio. In association with these flares, the sun also expelled two significant coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are travelling faster than 600 miles a second and may arrive at Earth in the next few days. Last night’s flares have also sent solar particles into Earth’s atmosphere, producing a moderate solar energetic particle event, also called a solar radiation storm.