Every now and then, the sun explodes. Without warning, blazing hot plasma spews into the solar system with the force of about 20 million nuclear bombs. Depending on the direction of the explosion, that plasma could head straight for Earth. These eruptions are called Coronal Mass Ejections, and they happen when the sun’s surface gets a little twisted.
The sun is basically a giant ball of gas that is constantly dancing. When the sun gets a little too excited, it twists its magnetic field too far which causes it to kink. Remember when phones had cords and they’d get all tangled when you walked around? Well, it’s kinda like that. Eventually, the tension builds and the kink snaps. And the plasma explodes into a terrifying cloud of protons and electrons. Solar wind then takes the cloud of piping hot particles on a ride through the solar system. The plasma can travel at speeds of more than 7 million miles per hour. And if the CME is aimed at Earth, it could take as little as 12 hours to slam into our planet. Last time this happened was in 1859 and the impact triggered a geomagnetic storm in our magnetosphere. And if that were to happen today, the storm could fry our power grid, leaving us all in the dark. So the next time the sun decides to explode, let’s just hope it’s not aimed at us.