Was the sun in a bad mood this past weekend? Over a two-day period, it pumped out three powerful coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The first CME came at 2:54 a.m. EDT on April 20. The second came at 3:54 a.m. on April 21, the third at 12:39 p.m. EDT on April 21.
All three CMEs were detected by the Solar Heliospheric Observatory, a spacecraft that is operated jointly by NASA and ESA.
CMEs can pump out into space billions of tons of solar particles, and these can wreak havoc on nearby satellites. NASA said it was possible that the CME trio had affected NASA's Messenger spacecraft and STEREO-A satellites. The agency said it had notified both mission operators, adding that the satellites can be put into safe mode to protect their instruments.
NASA released these images of two of the CMEs:
This CME, which took place on April 20, 2013, is headed toward Mercury. The large bright spot on the left is Venus.
The third CME in two days erupted toward Mercury on April 21, 2013. In this image, the sun is blocked so its brightness doesn’t obscure the solar atmosphere, the corona.