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Auroras expected across the U.S. from massive solar storm

A series of powerful solar flares and eruptions from the sun are set to trigger a severe geomagnetic storm, potentially bringing breathtaking displays of auroras, the northern lights, to skies across the United States.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm watch on Thursday, the first since 2005.

Today, as the storms began striking Earth, the forecast predicts that auroras could be visible as far south as Florida and Texas in the southeast and as low as southern California on the west coast.

Solar flares and auroras

Observers have witnessed severe (G4) geomagnetic storm conditions today. Several additional Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are in transit to Earth’s outer atmosphere, making it highly likely that geomagnetic storming will persist for several days.

The CMEs are associated with a large and magnetically complex sunspot cluster, known as NOAA region 3664, which continues to grow and now spans an impressive 17 times the diameter of Earth. Several strong flares have been detected in this region, contributing to the heightened alert level.

Shawn Dahl, a service coordinator at the SWPC in Boulder, Colorado, emphasized the significance of the event, stating, “We have a rare event on our hands.”

Understanding the aurora borealis

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are created when charged particles ejected from the sun during solar storms collide with Earth’s magnetic field.

These energetic particles interact with atoms and molecules in the planet’s upper atmosphere, resulting in the mesmerizing, colorful displays we observe in the night sky.

While typically seen at high latitudes, intense periods of solar activity can cause the auroras to be visible much farther south than usual.

Viewing the northern lights

The SWPC’s aurora dashboard provides short-term forecasts for those hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. For the best viewing experience, find a dark location far from city lights on a clear night.

Keep an eye on the dashboard and local weather forecasts to maximize your chances of witnessing this spectacular celestial event.

Potential impacts of severe solar storms

While amplified northern lights displays are a breathtaking sight, severe solar storms can also have disruptive effects on Earth.

Coronal mass ejections, the clouds of plasma and charged particles unleashed by solar flares, have the power to disrupt communications and power grids on Earth and interfere with satellites in space when directed at our planet.

The SWPC has notified operators of these systems to take protective action in anticipation of the incoming solar activity.

  • Induced Currents: Power system voltage irregularities and false alarms on some protection devices.
  • Spacecraft: Surface charging and increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites, potentially causing orientation problems.
  • Navigation: Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error.
  • Radio: Intermittent HF (high frequency) radio communication.
  • Aurora: Northern lights may be seen as low as Florida and Texas in the southern states, down to Missouri in the Midwest, and down to Southern California on the west coast.

Increased solar activity expected

The sun’s activity follows an 11-year cycle, alternating between periods of minimum and maximum activity. The current cycle, which began in late 2019, is predicted to reach its peak in July 2025, according to NOAA and NASA forecasts.

As we approach this peak, we can expect more frequent and intense solar events, potentially leading to more opportunities to witness the awe-inspiring northern lights.

With several moderate to strong solar flares detected since Wednesday morning and at least five flares and their associated coronal mass ejections apparently directed at Earth, the SWPC warns that geomagnetic storm conditions could persist through the weekend.

As we eagerly await the arrival of this rare celestial event, remember to stay informed, stay safe, and, most importantly, take a moment to marvel at the wonders of our universe.

Rare opportunity to witness our universe in action

In summary, as we eagerly anticipate the arrival of this rare and awe-inspiring celestial event, remember to stay informed about the latest updates from and the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Take necessary precautions to protect sensitive equipment, and find a dark, clear location to maximize your chances of witnessing the northern lights.

Embrace this opportunity to marvel at the wonders of our universe, and share the experience with friends and family.

The severe solar storm this weekend promises to paint the skies with breathtaking auroras, reminding us of the powerful and beautiful forces at work in the cosmos.


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