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Home / Science / A solar storm hits Earth this week, driving the Northern Lights south

A solar storm hits Earth this week, driving the Northern Lights south



NASA's Sun and Heliospheric Observatory satellite has taken these time-lapse images of the solar blast.


NOAA / NASA / SOHO / LASCO

After a prolonged period of rest, the sun set off an explosion on Wednesday, when a new sunspot unleashed a minor solar flare lasting over an hour.

The high energy explosion caused interference in some radio operators in Europe and Africa. It was accompanied by a slower, massive cloud of charged particles called coronal mass ejection (CME), which will hit Earth this weekend.

All of these particles, which collide with the earth's magnetic field, could increase the range and intensity of the aurora, also called northern and southern lights. Aurora is caused by particles of the sun, which are constantly pouring on our planet, but a CME provides a particularly large help, which can really strengthen the display.

In North America, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the Aurora Borealis could be seen on Saturday in New York and Chicago, probably early in the morning.

  aurora

NOAA predicts that Aurora could be visible in the early morning hours on Saturday to the yellow line.


NOAA SWPC

One of the most helpful metaphors for understanding the difference between a solar flare and a CME comes from NASA, which uses the example of a shotgun.

"The flare is like the muzzle flash that can be seen all around, and the CME is like the cannonball, which is propelled forward in a single preferred direction."

This is mild in solar storms. One of the most extreme recordings ever recorded is the Carrington event of 1859, which allegedly created an almost universally visible aurora and caused telegraph wires to go up in flames. Considering today's dramatically increasing dependence on electromagnetically-based communications, the repetition of such an event could destroy much of our infrastructure .

Flare and CME this week are a possible indication that the sun is becoming more active after spending the majority of 2018 and 2019 without a single visible sunspot on its surface.


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