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Solar storms prompt aurora alert and "Geomagnetic Storm" watch

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a key division of the National Weather Service, is currently keeping a close eye on the Sun following several significant solar events. These events have led to concerns about a strong geomagnetic storm, prompting the issuance of a Geomagnetic Storm Watch.

Coronal hole spotted on December 4

The NOAA observed a high-speed stream of solar particles from a large coronal hole that is expected to lead to G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storming on December 4 (UTC Day) and G1 (Minor) storming on December 5, 2023, according to an alert this morning from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

Coronal holes play a significant role in the creation of auroras on Earth. These dark areas on the Sun’s surface, characterized by open magnetic fields, allow solar winds to escape more easily into space. When these high-speed solar winds, often emanating from coronal holes, reach Earth, they can interact with the planet’s magnetosphere.

November 28 solar flare and CME

On November 27 and 28, the Sun experienced several coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are massive bursts of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space. These CMEs have triggered a flurry of activities and observations by space weather experts.

A notable solar flare was detected on November 28 at 2:50pm EST. This event originated from Region 3500, a moderately complex sunspot group located near the Sun’s central meridian. The flare was associated with the fourth full halo CME observed during this period.

Interestingly, the fourth CME is moving at an accelerated pace compared to the previous ones. This increase in speed is attributed to the earlier CMEs clearing a path through the solar wind. It is anticipated that this CME will merge with two of the three earlier CMEs, with an expected arrival at Earth between the night of November 30 and December 1.

Impact from geomagnetic storm

SWPC forecasters are vigilantly monitoring the situation using NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite, which provides real-time data on solar winds. This information is crucial for understanding the strength and timing of the anticipated geomagnetic storm.

Geomagnetic storms are known to affect infrastructure both in near-Earth orbit and on the Earth’s surface. These impacts can include disruptions to communications, the electric power grid, navigation systems, radio frequencies, and satellite operations. Such storms are a significant concern for industries and services reliant on these technologies.

High auroral activity expected

An interesting and visually stunning consequence of geomagnetic storms is the aurora, commonly known as the Northern or Southern Lights. This storm has the potential to drive the aurora further south from its usual position above the polar regions.

If weather conditions are favorable, auroras may be visible across the U.S. Northern Tier and upper Midwest from Illinois to Oregon. Residents in these areas are encouraged to check NOAA’s latest aurora forecast for the best chance of witnessing this natural phenomenon.

NOAA’s SWPC continues to monitor these solar events closely, providing updates and forecasts. As the situation evolves, they will offer guidance on the potential impacts of the geomagnetic storm. The public and relevant industries are advised to stay informed and prepared for any disruptions that may occur.

More about geomagnetic storms

As discussed above, geomagnetic storms represent disturbances in Earth’s magnetosphere, caused by solar wind shocks or the interactions of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field. These storms, often originating from the Sun’s activities like solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), have profound effects on Earth’s magnetic environment.

Journey from the Sun to the Earth

The story of a geomagnetic storm begins with the Sun. Solar flares, intense bursts of radiation, and CMEs, large expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona, play pivotal roles. These phenomena release huge quantities of particles into space, which can reach Earth and interact with its magnetic field, triggering a geomagnetic storm.

After their eruption, solar particles and electromagnetic waves travel through space, taking approximately 1-3 days to reach Earth. The speed and intensity of these particles vary, depending on the strength of the solar event.

Interaction with Earth’s magnetosphere

Upon arrival, these charged particles collide with Earth’s magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Earth’s magnetic field. This collision causes complex changes and disturbances in the magnetosphere, leading to a geomagnetic storm. These storms have a range of impacts, from beautiful auroras to potential disruptions in technology.


The most visible and striking effect is the aurora, known as the Northern and Southern Lights. These displays of colors occur when charged particles collide with gases in Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in mesmerizing light shows typically seen near the polar regions.

Technological disruptions

More significantly, geomagnetic storms can disrupt satellite operations, affecting communication and GPS systems. They can induce currents in long conductors, impacting power grids and potentially causing widespread blackouts.

Impact on spacecraft and satellites

Satellites and spacecraft, exposed to increased radiation, face the risk of damage or malfunction during these storms. This risk necessitates careful monitoring and protective measures in space missions.

Geomagnetic storm forecasting

Organizations like NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center actively monitor the Sun and forecast geomagnetic storms. They use satellites like the DSCOVR to track solar winds and provide early warnings, helping mitigate potential impacts on technology and infrastructure.

In summary, geomagnetic storms, while a source of natural wonder, remind us of our planet’s vulnerability to solar activities. Understanding and monitoring these storms not only provide insights into our space environment but also help us prepare for and mitigate their effects on our increasingly technology-dependent world.

More about auroras

As mentioned above, auroras, often called the Northern or Southern Lights, are a natural light display predominantly seen in the Earth’s polar regions. They occur when the Earth’s magnetosphere gets disturbed by the solar wind, a stream of particles coming from the Sun. This disturbance generates bright and colorful lights in the sky, forming auroras.

How auroras form

The formation of auroras begins with the emission of particles from the Sun’s atmosphere. These particles, mainly electrons and protons, travel towards Earth carried by the solar wind. Upon reaching Earth, these charged particles interact with the magnetic field and are funneled towards the polar regions.

As these particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, they excite atoms and molecules, causing them to light up. Oxygen and nitrogen, the main constituents of our atmosphere, play a key role in the coloration of auroras. Oxygen emits green and red lights, while nitrogen produces blue and purple hues.

Types of auroras

Auroras come in various forms, each unique and breathtaking:

Aurora Borealis – Also known as the Northern Lights, these are visible in the northern hemisphere’s high-latitude regions like Canada, Alaska, and Scandinavia.

Aurora Australis – Known as the Southern Lights, these are seen in the southern hemisphere in places like Antarctica, Chile, and Australia.

Viewing auroras

For the best aurora viewing experience, one should head to high-latitude regions during the winter months. Dark, clear nights away from city lights provide optimal conditions. The intensity of auroral displays can vary, influenced by the solar cycle and geomagnetic activity.

Cultural and scientific significance

Auroras have captivated human imagination for centuries, inspiring myths and folklore. Cultures across the globe have interpreted these lights in various ways, often attributing them to gods or spirits.

In modern times, studying auroras is crucial for understanding the Earth’s magnetosphere and its interaction with solar wind. This research is vital for protecting satellites and communication systems from solar storms.

In summary, auroras are a stunning natural phenomenon, offering a vivid display of Earth’s dynamic interaction with the Sun. Their beauty and complexity continue to intrigue both scientists and enthusiasts, making them a bucket-list item for travelers and a subject of ongoing scientific research.

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