"An active region on the farside of the sun erupted during the early hours of Jan. 13th and hurled a bright coronal mass ejection (CME) into space. Click on the image to play a movie of the expanding cloud recorded by the Solar and Heliospheric observatory (SOHO). Although the explosion happened on the sun's farside, one spacecraft had a direct view: STEREO-B is stationed over the sun's eastern limb almost directly above the blast site. The spacecraft's extreme UV telescope recorded the entire event. This movie shows the eruption and the shadowy shock wave it propelled through the sun's atmosphere. The source of the activity, probably a big sunspot, won't remain on the farside for long. The sun's rotation is turning it toward Earth, and geoeffective solar activity could commence within days."
Wikipedia explains, "A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a massive burst of solar wind, other light isotope plasma, and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space. Coronal mass ejections are often associated with other forms of solar activity, most notably solar flares..."
With the size of this mass ejection one can see the effects that such eruptions could have upon the earth if the sun happened to be facing the earth when the next one happens. ("geoeffective" means impacting earth). In August 2010, Discovery published an article about the potentialities of such an impact:
Impact! Coronal Mass Ejection Hits Earth
"It's hard to imagine the magnetic battle that's ensuing above my head right now, especially during this hot and calm Southern Californian day. But over the last few hours, orbiting space weather observatories and ground-based magnetometers have detected the moment a coronal mass ejection (CME) -- fired from the sun on Sunday -- slammed into the Earth's magnetosphere."
The article goes on to explain what CME's are and how they are tracked. Their effects, though, while normally in the benign range, producing only Aurora Borealis displays (northern lights), one day will be strong enough to reach earth at the moment the sun is facing earth, and then watch out. This Science Daily article explains:
"When directed toward our planet, these ejections can be breathtakingly beautiful and yet potentially cause damaging effects worldwide. The brightly colored phenomena known as auroras -- more commonly called Northern or Southern Lights -- are examples of Earth's upper atmosphere harmlessly being disturbed by a CME. However, ejections can produce a form of solar cosmic rays that can be hazardous to spacecraft, astronauts and technology on Earth. Space weather produces disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth that can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines and causing wide-spread blackouts. These sun storms can interfere with communications between ground controllers and satellites and with airplane pilots flying near Earth's poles. Radio noise from the storm also can disrupt cell phone service. Space weather has been recognized as causing problems with new technology since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century."
In other words, a strong CME reaching earth can zap every electronic, every chip, all electricity. We have become so reliant on the electronic chip to service all our daily needs, from toaster ovens to cars to banking to life-support machines, that we forget that in one stroke, the electricity may not be there to run them. I thought the SOHO picture was dramatic, dramatic enough to post as a reminder that we are tiny dust motes compared to the Almighty, He who controls the entire universe with a word. We have a blessed choice, either we are in the palm of His hand, shielded from all this, or we are exposed to His power and judgment. I know which place I dwell. I hope you make the right choice, too.