...Strong Solar Geomagnetic Storm Expected Tonight and Friday...

...Strong Solar Geomagnetic Storm Expected Tonight and Friday...

When we think of sun spots and stronger geomagnetic storms, we tend to think of the impacts as the brilliant displays of the Northern Lights. But what is really going on here? Sun spots are dark spots on the sun that are several thousand degrees colder than the surrounding sun surface, and caused by local areas of intense magnetic activity. Much like a thunderstorm exploding upwards on a hot/humid afternoon, the sun can violently release this built up magnetic activity into space, known as a coronal mass ejection (or CME for short).  The solar wind carries this burst of highly energized particles out through space at over 300 miles PER SECOND!! If they are directed toward earth there can be many impacts, arriving several hours to more than a day after the solar eruption.

As the highly electrically charge particles interact with the very upper levels of our atmosphere and the earth's magnetic field, we can see vibrant displays of the northern/southern lights, known as the Aurora Borealis (or Aurora Australis). However, there are many negative impacts from a strong geomagnetic storm, ranging from radio blackouts, satellite interruptions, electrical grid problems, and increased radiation to aircraft at high altitudes flying across the northern latitudes. The NWS Space Prediction Center ranks these potential geomagnetic storms based on expected intensity, and that scale is linked at the bottom of this page. So what's the big deal? Well, a strong solar eruption was observed yesterday and the CME was directed toward earth. Aurora Borealis might be observed tonight.

Key Points  

  •     A very energetic solar eruption was observed Tuesday afternoon that produced a strong radio blackout and a moderate solar radiation storm on Earth.
  •     The most delayed aspect of a solar eruption is the arrival of the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) which generally follows a day or two after the solar eruption and can cause a Geomagnetic Storm.
  •     The NWS Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is predicting the arrival of the CME from Tuesday's eruption to arrive at Earth during the early morning hours of Thursday EST.
  •     Since the eruption was intense and Earth-directed, SWPC is predicting that the Geomagnetic Storm will be strong.
  •     Due to the nature of solar events, there will be very little new information until the time the CME reaches the NASA sensors close to Earth. Once it reaches those sensors, SWPC can issue short-term, higher-confidence warnings.
  •     The region of the sun responsible will be in a position to affect Earth for most of the next week as it continues to make its way across the sun, so subsequent activity is possible.

Potential Impacts from a Strong Geomagnetic Storm

    Power systems:
        Voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.

    Satellite operations:
        Surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.

        Intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent.
        Aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically to around 50 degrees latitude).

In addition, the moderate Solar Radiation Storm currently being observed is likely disrupting polar High Frequency radio communications.


    NWS Space Weather Prediction Center
    NOAA Space Weather Scale for Geomagnetic Storms

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