Astronomy Alert – X1.4 Solar Flare from Region 1520 HEADING STRAIGHT AT EARTH!!!

Sorry – didn’t mean to scare you!  Settle down and read this.  You’re not going to die!  Really!

We just thought we’d try to shake you up a bit before CNN and the Weather Channel get a crack at you.  Got your attention, didn’t we?

Don’t you wish you’d spent more time studying science while you were in school?  If you did, then scary headlines like that would only make you laugh, like us.  OK sometimes we get mad, but usually we just shake our heads and say: “There they go again trying to scare the pants off the scientifically illiterate working class of the United States!  The bastards!”

Or words to that effect.

All that has happened is this:  the GOES-15 satellite has detected an X 1.4 solar flare from sunspot group 1520, which is pointed almost straight at Earth.

THIS IS NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED BY!  It is a relatively common occurrence on the Sun during its 11-year solar cycle.  Solar Maximum periods, one of which we are passing through this year, produce several flares of this size and some many orders of magnitude larger without having major effects on life forms on Earth (beyond exposing people in planes – and astronauts, especially – to the equivalent of several chest X-rays’ worth of… X-radiation.

We watch these things all the time.  It’s no huge deal, really.

HOWEVER – for those of us who enjoy watching the Aurora Borealis, this could be a flare that will produce some nice auroral displays on Earth in about 3 days.  Stay tuned.

Source: SOHO Website:

Source:  NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

Product: 20120712events.txt
Created: 2012 Jul 12 2132 UT
Date: 2012 07 12
# Prepared by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Space Weather Prediction Center
# Please send comments and suggestions to
# Missing data: ////
# Updated every 30 minutes.
#                            Edited Events for 2012 Jul 12
#Event      Begin        Max                End   Obs    Q    Type   Loc/Frq          Particulars                Reg#


9900 +      1537        1649              1730  G15    5     XRA      1-8A             X1.4 4.6E-01             1520

Source: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center at

And, finally, here’s the full report on today’s solar action, hot off the… Internets – also from NOAA’s “Space Weather Prediction Center:

Prepared jointly by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA,
Space Weather Prediction Center and the U.S. Air Force.
Updated 2012 Jul 12 2200 UTC

Joint USAF/NOAA Report of Solar and Geophysical Activity
SDF Number 194 Issued at 2200Z on 12 Jul 2012

IA.  Analysis of Solar Active Regions and Activity from  11/2100Z
to 12/2100Z:  Solar activity was high.  At 12/1649Z, a long-duration
X1/2b flare was observed from Region 1520 (S16W09).  The event was
visible in GONG H-alpha imagery as a bright ribbon flare that
erupted along the region?s long E/W oriented inversion line. 
Associated with this event were Type II (1268 km/s) and Type IV
radio emissions along with an 800 sfu Tenflare.  Limited satellite
imagery indicated a CME was associated with this event.   STEREO
Behind COR2 imagery observed a CME lifting off the west limb, first
visible at 12/1710Z.  Further analysis of this CME is ongoing. 
During the past 24 hours, Region 1520 grew in both area and spot
count and maintained a complex beta-gamma-delta magnetic
configuration.  Region 1521 (S21W21) also grew in area and spot
count and remained a beta-gamma magnetic classification.  New
Regions 1522 (N13W21) and 1523 (S27E31) emerged on the disk as
simple bi-polar spot groups.

IB.  Solar Activity Forecast:  Solar activity is expected to be
moderate with a chance for X-class events for the next three days
(13 - 15 July).

IIA.  Geophysical Activity Summary 11/2100Z to 12/2100Z:
The geomagnetic field was at quiet to active levels with isolated
high latitude major storm intervals from 11/0600 - 1200Z.  ACE solar
data indicated wind velocities decreased steadily through the period
from 500 km/s to near 400 km/s while the Bz component of the
interplanetary magnetic field did not vary much beyond +/- 5 nT. 
The greater than 10 MeV proton flux at geosynchronous orbit exceeded
the 10 pfu event threshold at 12/1835Z.  At the time of this report,
flux levels were at 35 pfu and rising.  The greater than 100 MeV
flux at geosynchronous orbit was enhanced, but below event threshold
levels of 1 pfu. The greater than 2 MeV electron flux at
geosynchronous orbit reached high levels during the period.

IIB.  Geophysical Activity Forecast:  The geomagnetic field is
expected to be at mostly quiet to unsettled levels for day one (13
July).  Unsettled to active levels, with isolated minor storm
intervals, are expected on days two and three (14 - 15 July) as
effects from the 12 July CME are expected to become geoeffective.

III.  Event Probabilities 13 Jul-15 Jul
Class M    80/80/80
Class X    35/35/35
Proton     99/99/50
PCAF       red

IV.  Penticton 10.7 cm Flux
Observed           12 Jul 165
Predicted   13 Jul-15 Jul  165/165/165
90 Day Mean        12 Jul 127

V.  Geomagnetic A Indices
Observed Afr/Ap 11 Jul  010/012
Estimated Afr/Ap 12 Jul  009/011
Predicted Afr/Ap 13 Jul-15 Jul  006/008-015/018-013/015

VI.  Geomagnetic Activity Probabilities 13 Jul-15 Jul
A.  Middle Latitudes
Active                20/40/35
Minor storm           05/15/10
Major-severe storm    01/01/01
B.  High Latitudes
Active                20/10/15
Minor storm           25/30/30
Major-severe storm    25/55/45

Hey, look!  The US Air Force is good for something that doesn’t involve killing people in cold blood from high altitudes!

Dammit!  The folks in Canada and along the Canada-US border have a better than 50% shot at seeing a major-severe Geomagnetic storm the night of July 14-15, while those of us in the lower lower 48 will have a mere 15% shot at a “minor” storm?  We demand a recount!



UPDATE:  We are soooo happy to report that this solar flare lived up to expectations, producing lovely displays of the Aurora Borealis visible from southwest Wisconsin during the early morning hours of July 15th!

We first observed the aurora from a rest area (probably Rest Area 15) on I-90 at about 3:30 AM.  We’d been looking for the aurora all night long, starting at about 11PM on the 14th.  Though there was skyglow around, it couldn’t be determined if it was the aurora or the lights from some distant town.  So, we kept looking periodically, but never seeing anything.

We were looking for some cool motel to crash out at for the night, and had gone too far west for our liking – the country around this part of the world is so beautiful, and here we were driving at night and missing it all!  When we crossed the Mississippi, we decided to head back east to the St. Croix river – not knowing that we were far off course for that, having ended up on 90 instead of 94 when we set about looking for a motel by driving north along the east side of the Mississippi a couple hours back – we think…

Oh, never mind all that.  This isn’t about our navigational skills anyway!  Shut up!

So, having been unable to find a motel, we decided to just head back to the last rest area we’d passed and crash out there for the night.  Pulled in there and grabbed some munchies at the crappy vending machines at about 3:15 AM.  No one there but a couple of semis and a car or two.  Looked for the Aurora, but couldn’t see anything through the bright lights of the rest area’s parking lot. 

Headed back to the truck and prepared to move on down the road to the next exit and then turn around and stop for what was left of the night at the rest area on the westbound side of the highway (in the direction we were headed.  Figured we’d be able to head to our destination first thing in the morning and enjoy the great scenery along the way, then head up to Minn./St. Paul along BEAUTIFUL, LEGENDARY HIGHWAY 61 in the morning.

So, we get in the truck and start her up and get ready to go east to go west… we pass out from under the bright lights of the rest area and onto the ramp that heads back onto the highway when, out of the corner of our eyes…!

Big Green aurora!  About 60% of the horizon from NW to E, with a big bend in it on the W side and beautiful green curtains all along!  Stop the truck!  Get out!  Woo Hoo!  Make noise like an idiot!

It was awesome and the first one we’ve seen since the last solar maximum.  It lasted from about 3:38 to 4:00AM; then it came back again a couple of times until the sun rose.  The last appearance was of a bright white aurora with beams and curtains, and a brief period before that where it was a diffuse white nebulous cloudy thing with distinct “pulses” like it was rapidly turning on and off – never saw that before!

The highest it got was about 70degrees, which means that, as we expected, it would have been barely visible south of Chicago.   Lucky us, we were “forced” to drive from Chicago to Minneapolis that one day!  

A word to the wise traveler: if you’ve never been out to the Great River Road that runs from New Orleans to the source of the Mississippi River, you’re missing one of the great American scenic drives.  The stretch of Highway 61 we drove from French Island, Wisconsin to Red Wing, MN is absolutely gorgeous.  Big, isolated, forested limestone bluffs (they look like Smurfs’ hats at night) line both sides of the river and expose some amazing cross-bedded lime- and sandstone formations.  There’s camping locations all along the west side of the river – including some “bicycle only” campsites for backpackers on 2 wheels – and a great, wide bike path running along the highway, with scenic overlooks all along the river.  Funky little cabins and houses line the very banks of the river in some places, while big, modern mansions stand perched atop some of the limestone bluffs.  At night, the Milky Way is clearly visible from the roadside rest areas.  In the day, beautiful farms using contour farming methods flow across the undulating hills of the region.  It was one of the most spectacular drives we’ve ever taken, and we have been to the enormous Grand Canyon loop that includes Phoenix, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon Village, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest National Park.  The Great River Road is on that level of beauty. 


It was a great night, and we’d never have seen it if we’d actually found a motel to crash out in.  It was a wonderful night and a

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