Severe Solar Storm to Energize Northern Lights This Friday

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An imminent severe solar storm is poised to intensify the spectacle of the northern lights come Friday, with forecasts suggesting that auroras could be visible as far south as Alabama in the United States. Severe Solar Storm to Energize Northern Lights This Friday.

Severe Solar Storm to Energize Northern Lights This Friday
Severe Solar Storm to Energize Northern Lights This Friday

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center cautioned on Thursday that a series of solar flares and eruptions from the sun may prompt significant geomagnetic storms and “spectacular displays of aurora” across Earth from Friday evening through the weekend. This marks the first time since 2005 that the agency has issued a severe geomagnetic storm watch.

Severe Solar Storm to Energize Northern Lights This Friday

Shawn Dahl, a service coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, remarked, “We have a rare event on our hands. We’re a little concerned. This is a rare occurrence after a considerable stretch of time.” Given the potential for disruptive effects from robust geomagnetic storms—including impacts on communications, power grids, and satellites—Dahl noted that satellite and grid operators have been notified to ready themselves for potential disturbances.

The storm’s arrival is anticipated around 8 p.m. ET on Friday, though Dahl noted the uncertainty surrounding the timing of such events given the vast distance of 93 million miles between the sun and Earth. To gain a clearer understanding, forecasters will leverage data from NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer spacecraft, which orbits approximately 1 million miles from Earth to monitor solar wind and predict potential effects.

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, stem from charged particles ejected by the sun during solar storms. When these energetic particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field and interact with the upper atmosphere’s atoms and molecules, they produce vibrant displays of light. Typically confined to high latitudes, during heightened solar activity, the northern lights can be observed farther south than usual.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center’s forecast, there’s a chance that on Friday night, auroras could be visible “as far south as Alabama and Northern California.” The agency advises checking their aurora dashboard for short-term forecasts and recommends viewing from dark locations away from city lights for the best experience.

Dahl suggested that smartphones might even capture imagery of the aurora at southern locations where they’re not visible to the naked eye. The center also reported detecting several “moderate to strong” solar flares since Wednesday morning, which unleash clouds of plasma and charged particles called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) into space. At least five of these flares and associated CMEs are headed towards Earth, potentially prolonging geomagnetic storm conditions through the weekend.

Past events illustrate the potential impact of such storms, with the 1989 geomagnetic storm causing a major blackout affecting millions in Montreal, Canada, for nine hours. In 2002, a coronal mass ejection disrupted 38 commercial satellites. This impending storm underscores the significance of monitoring space weather and preparing for potential disruptions caused by solar activity.

 

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