Persistent solar storms: Spectacular aurora borealis • Earth.com

Persistent solar storms: Spectacular aurora borealis • Earth.com

Earth is currently experiencing a series of solar storms, raising concerns about potential technological disruptions and providing the opportunity to view stunning aurora borealis.

Over the weekend, the Sun unleashed two solar flares that have since made contact with Earth, beginning with an impact over the Pacific Ocean on Monday afternoon.

Radio outage

A brief radio outage was detected over the Pacific Ocean after the solar storm reached Earth around 4:20 PM EDT. This incident occurred off the coast of the western United States and South America and was short-lived, lasting only a few seconds.

However, the impact was longer at the poles, where the outage lasted about seven hours.

Potential network impact

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center indicated a 60 percent chance that the ongoing storm would knock out the power grid.

Another storm expected to arrive tomorrow could affect radio and aviation communications and degrade satellite operations.

Class M torches

Speaking to DailyMail.com, physicist Tamitha Skov highlighted the growing risk of power outages.

“As for the radio outage, yes, the risk is increasing now,” Skov said. “We have already had two small Class M flares, resulting in short-range R1 level radio outages today, but they may become longer and larger soon.”

These M-class flares generally cause short radio outages that affect the Earth’s polar regions, Skov explained. Sunspots 3559 and 3555 were identified as sources of these flares, which released coronal mass ejections (CMEs) containing plasma and magnetic fields.

A series of storms

“This storm will be followed by two, and maybe three more, that will give us several quick hits until January 25,” said Skov, who hosts space weather forecasts on YouTube. “We now have a series of solar storms hitting us (the first hit a few hours ago, but it is slowly intensifying).”

“However, we can all take comfort that these storms will not be as strong to impact critical infrastructure.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses a five-level S scale to indicate the intensity of solar radiation storms, with the current storm being a moderate G2 event on the SWPC scale.

Understanding solar storms

According to NASA, solar storms occur when solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, causing potential disturbances.

Sean Dahl, coordinator of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told ABC News that the current solar storm was caused by the explosion of a filament, a magnetic field suspended above the sun’s surface containing billions of tons of solar material.

When this magnetic field becomes unstable, it can sometimes fling material out into space, dragging a very strong local magnetic field with it, Dahl explained. He noted that these filament explosions were what caused the solar storms seen on Saturday, Sunday, and again on Monday morning.

Impact on technology

Severe geomagnetic storms can disrupt navigation systems by interfering with radio and GPS signals, and can affect electrical power grids.

Dahl told ABC News that the ongoing solar storm should not lead to major impacts on daily life, noting that the power grid is equipped to handle minor disturbances and that the satellites can be managed to maintain their proper orbital altitude.

The beauty of solar storms

One of the most visible effects of coronal mass ejections is the aurora borealis, or northern lights, caused by the interaction of solar particles with the Earth’s atmosphere. The intensity of a solar storm determines how far south these lights can be seen.

Solar storms this week are expected to create stunning auroras that can be seen as far south as Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York.

This time of year, the aurora borealis are usually most visible several hours after sunset until around midnight, Dahl said. He added that viewers will need to be mindful of the full moon and stay away from city lights.

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