On January 4, the Earth will reach its closest point the sun throughout the year at an annual event called perihelion. The exact distance varies from year to year, but perihelion 2023 will see our planet orbiting 91.4 million miles (147 million km) from the sun — or roughly 3 million miles (4.8 million km) closer than Earth’s aphelion, the farthest point from the sun, which It will happen on July 6th.
Looks like our star decided to celebrate the occasion with a bang. On January 4 and 5, a slow-moving ball of solar particles named a Coronal mass ejection (CME) will collide Landthe magnetic field.
The collision is expected to create a G1-class mini geomagnetic storm that could briefly knock out power grids, cause radio outages and drive colors. twilight Much further south than usual — possibly as far south as Michigan and Maine in the US, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (Opens in a new tab).
However, this weakly ordered storm is not likely to have any lasting effects on our planet or its inhabitants – so enjoy the cosmic light show if you can.
What is rock bottom?
The earth does not revolve around the sun in a perfect circle but rather in a wobbly ellipse. This elliptical orbit naturally means that the Earth moves closer to the Sun during certain parts of the year and farther during others.
For many years now, Earth’s perihelion has occurred within a few weeks of winter solstice, the official start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when the North Pole is at its maximum tilt away from the Sun and the South Pole is tilted closest to the Sun. However, this marriage of solstice and perihelion is purely coincidental; The solstice relates to the Earth’s tilt toward or away from the sun, while perihelion is the physical distance of the planet from the sun.
The actual date of perihelion is always changing, shifting by about two days every century due to small quirks in our planet’s orbit. In 1246, perihelion and the winter solstice occurred on the same day. Thousands of years from now, in the year 6430, perihelion will line up exactly with the vernal equinox on March 20, according to sister site Live Science. Space.com (Opens in a new tab).
explosions from the sun
It’s also a pure coincidence that this year’s perihelion lines up with a geomagnetic storm.
These storms occur when charged solar particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field (called the magnetosphere), compressing it slightly and allowing some of the particles to fall into the planet’s upper atmosphere. Most geomagnetic storms are minor, resulting in clearer aurorae and occasional radio outages at high latitudes. But some like the notorious Carrington event 1859, could push aurorae from both poles all the way to the equator and cause mass electrical disturbances around the world.
Geomagnetic storms are caused by CMEs – giant explosions of charged particles that shoot out from the Sun when magnetic field lines on the Sun’s surface become too tangled and suddenly snap. These magnetic entanglements are often associated with sunspotsDark regions of intense magnetic activity periodically open and close on the Sun’s surface.
If a sunspot is pointed toward Earth during one of these magnetic snaps, the resulting CME will blast toward us over the course of several days. The CME is expected to hit Earth on January 4 and 5 from an Earth-facing sunspot on December 30, according to NOAA.
If you feel like you’ve been hearing a lot about CME lately, don’t imagine. The sun follows an 11-year activity cycle, with more sunspots – and more magnetic disturbances – appearing near the period of peak activity, known as the solar maximum. NASA predicts that the next solar maximum will occur in July 2025. As this point approaches, solar storms will become More frequent and more intense.
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