Did solar magnetic eruptions cause the Japanese earthquake? (cont.)
By Simon Macara
Hot on the heels of the Chilean quake the next major disaster to hit the planet was the Icelandic volcanic eruption. This too was the subject of another very similar “coincidence”. On 12th April 2010 a gargantuan solar prominence suddenly erupted from the sun’s northwestern limb. After an especially quiet 3-year long solar minimum during which there were virtually no prominences at all this was a major event, setting the astronomical community abuzz with excitement.
It was in fact the largest solar prominence we’d seen for 15 years, arching out almost a million kilometres above the surface of the sun. A highly significant solar event by anyone’s standards. Fortunately the eruption was not heading directly towards the Earth, but it was predicted to give a “glancing blow” to the Earth’s magnetic field sometime in the following 2-3 days. 2 days later on April 14th. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which had been erupting slowly and steadily since 20th March, suddenly exploded into spectacular activity, causing the now infamous shutdown of many of Northern Europe’s principal air routes.
Once again the timing of the catastrophe corresponded extremely well with the predicted time-lag between the moment the waves of electromagnetic energy erupted from the surface of the Sun and their arrival here 2 days (and 93 million miles) later. Although the brunt of the giant prominence’s energy was directed slightly beyond our planet, the fact remains that the 2 most disruptive tectonic disasters of 2010 both occurred within 2 days of remarkable electromagnetic eruptions on the sun.
So as we count the cost of last week’s Earth-shattering Japanese quake and begin to live with the fall-out, perhaps the question we should be asking is:
“Were there any significant electromagnetic eruptions on the sun in the days preceding the Japanese quake?”
The answer to this question, for the 3rd major tectonic cataclysm in a row, is a resounding “yes”. On this occasion there were in fact not 1, but 2 remarkable eruptions that occurred within the target time-frame.
The first candidate was a CME that erupted in the final hours of March 7th. This was no ordinary CME. It was in fact the fastest one we’ve witnessed since 2005. Its stream of super-heated plasma raced towards us at 2,200 kilometers per second, impacting the Earth’s magnetosphere at 06:30 UT on 10th March, almost exactly 24 hours before the Japanese quake.
The timing of this CME alone gives us sufficient cause to add the Japanese disaster to our list of possible sun-induced events, but this was not the only significant eruption that happened just before the quake. Any influence this CME had would have been further augmented by a second notable eruption. The second candidate was an X-Flare which erupted from behemoth sunspot 1166 on 9th March. X-Flares are an especially rare and powerful type of solar flare that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. We have just gone through a period of 4 whole years without a single X-flare being emitted from the sun. This prolonged dearth lasted until February 14th this year when the first X-Flare of solar cycle 24 was recorded. Then on March 9th at 23:23 UT cycle 24 delivered its second X-Flare, a X-1.5 class flare that erupted from Jupiter-sized sunspot complex 1166.
The intriguing timing of these 2 eruptions raises the possibility that they may have worked in concert with each other to deliver the Earth’s magnetic field a “double whammy” blow that was strong enough to precipitate the Japanese earthquake. Some interesting scientific studies have been done to suggest the mechanics of how this might have worked. Odintsov et al (2005) have theorised that incoming CME’s or high velocity solar wind streams compress the magnetosphere generating atmospheric gravity waves, which change the surface air pressure. This disrupts the balance of pressure on the tectonic plates, and if enough pressure accumulates it produces an earthquake.