Solar storm could see aurora borealis twinkle across US skies this week

A geomagnetic storm is set to hit Earth this Thursday and could trigger twinkling aurora borealis across the United States

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued an advisory that a geomagnetic storm watch was in effect for March 31.

It is expected that a moderate-strength storm – rated G2 on the G1-G5 force scale, with G5 being the highest – could occur in the early hours of the day or even overnight on March 30.

“Technology impacts from a G2 storm are typically small, but it can drive the aurora toward the equator of its polar home,” the SWPS said. “Aurora may be visible over northern portions of the northern states if conditions are favorable.”

The storm is linked to a solar flare that occurred on the evening of March 28 and an associated coronal mass ejection (CME) that launched solar plasma towards Earth.

Monday’s solar flare was an M-class solar flare, the second most powerful type, which can cause brief radio blackouts in Earth’s polar regions.

Specifically, it was an M4 force rocket on a scale of M1 to M9. The next most powerful class of flares ranges from X1 to X9 and can be much more disruptive.

The eruption was detected yesterday, Monday, causing spikes in proton and X-ray sensors. The CME, meanwhile, is moving much slower and is not expected to reach Earth until this Thursday, when it will should trigger the anticipated geomagnetic storm.

Flares and CMEs sometimes occur at the same time. Describing the difference between the two, NASA notes that a flare is like a muzzle flash that can be seen anywhere in the vicinity, while a CME is like a cannonball that is propelled in a certain direction.

Both phenomena are caused by the sun’s vast twisting magnetic fields which occasionally release bursts of energy.

On Twitter, space weather enthusiasts have been closely following this week’s developments. They report that there was not one but two CMEs launched towards Earth in quick succession.

In a series of tweets, Dr. Erika Palmerio, solar researcher at Predictive Science, called Monday a “wild day” for solar activity and said the two CMEs could combine as they travel to Earth from the sun. , increasing their effect when they reach our planet.

The sun is currently halfway through the waxing phase of its roughly 11-year solar cycle – a period in which it experiences a peak of activity when the sunspot number is highest, then a lull when the number of sunspots is the lowest.

In other words, solar activity and the number of CMEs can be expected to increase in the coming years.

Sunspots are areas that appear dark on the sun’s surface because they are cooler than other parts of the sun’s surface. They are colder because they form in areas where the sun’s magnetic fields are particularly strong, strong enough to block some of the sun’s heat from reaching the surface.

Sunspots are associated with solar flares and CMEs because these are produced when tangled magnetic field lines suddenly rearrange.

A file photo shows the Northern Lights seen over Finland. The Northern Lights are caused by energy from the sun, and coronal mass ejections can make them even more active.

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