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Earth Takes a Hit

Animation by Michael Wiltberger, High Altitude Observatory/National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Charles C. Goodrich, Boston University, Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling

Based on real data, this computer animation shows the impact of a coronal mass ejection (CME) that hit Earth on January 10, 1997. It was the first CME to be tracked from the time of its eruption on the sun all the way to Earth. The storm arrives from the left. Colors represent shifting plasma densities as the billion-ton cloud of plasma strikes at about a million miles an hour, deforming Earth's protective magnetosphere. The indicator at bottom left shows the CME's magnetic field shifting to a southward orientation. This allowed it to connect with Earth's northward-flowing magnetic field and send about 1,400 gigawatts of energy into the upper atmosphere. A communications satellite was knocked out by the storm, but overall damage was minor. On the other hand, the auroras it created were awesome.



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