Earth hit by a massive solar storm, causing Aurora activity in tonight’s sky

Earth is being hit by strong geomagnetic storm activity after the Sun blurted out a coronal mass ejection this past weekend. It’s a big one, but authorities say the risk to the public is minimal. If you live at the right latitude, it can also be a great opportunity to spot some aurora.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center issued an alert stating that a significant coronal mass ejection occurred on March 23. Disruptions were predicted to occur from late March 24 through March 25, when the solar flare reached Earth after its 15th year. – up to an 18-hour journey from the sun.

On March 24, when the wave of activity first hit, NOAA issued another announcement saying that geomagnetic storms had reached severe (G4) levels, adding that “infrastructure managers have been notified to take action to mitigate any to mitigate the consequences.”

This level of solar activity may cause some disruption to high-frequency radio signals used by aviation, maritime and military communications, although most low-frequency radio signals will not be affected. While there is a “small risk” of some power outages on the electricity grid, any disruptions are expected to be fairly short-lived.

An aurora forecast from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center for Sunday, March 24 (left) and Monday, March 25 (right)

An aurora forecast from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center for Sunday, March 24 (left) and Monday, March 25 (right).

Image credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

The good news is that intense solar activity can increase the chance of seeing auroras in the night sky. According to the NOAA forecast, large parts of Canada and Alaska are likely to see the aurora borealis on the night of Monday, March 25, while some northern US states may also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

The British Met Office has proposed that some aurora activity can also be seen in Scotland and northern England.

Northern Lights and Southern Lights are the result of charged high-energy particles from the solar wind colliding with gas molecules in Earth’s magnetic field, emitting colorful swirls of light.

The Sun’s upper atmosphere continuously emits solar wind. Eruptions occur when these charged particles are trapped by the intense magnetic fields on the Sun, and then suddenly released in an energy break. Even though the sun is 90 million miles (149 million kilometers) from Earth, this eruption could still affect our planet.

There is no need to panic this time. That said, geomagnetic solar storms have the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

The most powerful known eruption, known as the Carrington Event, unfolded in 1859. In addition to causing extremely bright auroras that radiated across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, major disturbances of the electromagnetic field caused telegraph systems to crash in many parts of the world. Some telegraph stations even caught fire.

In today’s world of satellite communications and productive electrical systems, a solar storm of this magnitude would be devastating. It is estimated that damage in the US alone is likely to amount to $1 to $2 trillion in the first year and full recovery could take up to ten years.

A taste of this potential disaster occurred in 1989 when extreme solar storms hit Earth, causing a nine-hour power outage in Canada’s Hydro-Québec electricity transmission system. Millions of people in the region had no power for more than twelve hours.

Another important lesson came during the Cold War, when a solar storm nearly plunged Earth into a full-scale nuclear conflict. On May 23, 1967, radar and radio communications in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere were disrupted, leading the US to believe they had been sabotaged by the USSR. Assuming an attack was imminent, the US Air Force prepared their planes for war. Fortunately, early attempts to monitor the sun’s activity showed that it was simply a misunderstanding.

Scientists believe that Earth is approaching solar maximum, which will lead to an increase in such solar activity. The question is: will we be ready for another massive solar flare? The short answer to this big question is: no, not really.

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