Solar storms ravaging Earth’s upper atmosphere cause the aurora to brighten
Space weather expert Dr. Tamitha Skovo tweeted: “Right to Cue: Aurora brightens as the first of the expected solar storms turns on intensity.
“Sub storms are now active and the show should be visible where clear and dark skies prevail.
“Norway, Sweden, UK, Northern Europe – get ready.”
She added: “Probably also radio propagation possible.”
The aurora are natural light shows generated when particles from the solar wind excite atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing them to glow.
When seen in the Northern Hemisphere they are known as the aurora borealis while their counterpart is called the aurora australis
The aurora form curtains of light that follow the geomagnetic field lines — appearing in different colors depending on which atoms are excited.
The two primary gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are oxygen, which emits a greenish light, and nitrogen, which appears in shades of blue, pink, and purple.
dr. Skov explained that tonight’s geomagnetic storm is the first of six to be hurled toward Earth in “machine gun fashion.”
According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms are the result of a combination of the influences of a coronal mass ejection and so-called coronal hole high-velocity flows.
One of the most powerful forms of solar storm, a coronal mass ejection (CME), occurs when the sun erupts a cloud of charged particles and electromagnetic fluctuations.
Meanwhile, coronal holes — which appear as dark regions in extreme ultraviolet and sun X-rays — are regions where our star’s plasma is cooler and less dense than the plasma around it, thanks to the star’s magnetic field expanding into space as an open field.
This open nature allows the solar wind to escape more easily, resulting in flows of relatively fast-moving material that can interact with Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field.
According to NOAA, today’s light show is caused by Earth connecting to one of these high-speed currents.
Forecasters expect this disruption of the solar wind field to be large enough to trigger a small geomagnetic storm — one classified as a G1 event.
This is the smallest category on the five-point G scale used to classify geomagnetic storms.
NOAA added, however, “Geomagnetic reactions are likely to escalate to G3 (strong) conditions on Aug. 18 due to the arrival at or near Earth of multiple coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have exited the Sun since Aug. 14.
“Despite the numerous CMEs, most are expected to have little to no impact on Earth, but at least four have potential Earth-facing components.”
However, NOAA added: “Geomagnetic reactions are likely to escalate to G3 (strong) conditions on Aug. 18 due to the arrival at or near Earth of multiple coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have left the Sun since Aug. 14.
A CME was responsible for the most powerful geomagnetic storm ever recorded – the so-called “Carrington Event” that occurred in September 1859.
The Carrington event impacted telegraph networks in Europe and North America, as well as the recently constructed transatlantic link connecting them.
Currents generated in cables by the space weather event reportedly caused sparks from telegraph masts, operators received electric shocks and some pipes completely went out.
Other connections, meanwhile, were found to still work, even after their power went out, so strong were the electrical currents created by the storm.
According to a study presented at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) SIGCOMM 2021 conference, a major solar storm like the Carrington Event could cripple the internet for weeks.
Unlike Victorian-era telegraph lines, the fiber optic cables that form the backbone of the Internet are immune to the electromagnetic fluctuations caused by solar storms.
However, the same cannot be said of the signal boosters dotted along submarine cables to maintain connections over long distances.
And because they’re underwater, these long-range cables are not only more vulnerable to the effects of space weather, but they’re inherently more difficult to access for repairs.
Astrophysicists predict that there is a 1.6-12 percent chance that a solar storm powerful enough to cause catastrophic disruption of modern society will hit Earth in the next 10 years.
Fortunately, however, we have little to fear from the space weather that will hit Earth in the coming days.
NOAA explained, “The impact on our technology from a G3 storm is usually minimal.
However, a G3 storm has the potential to drive the aurora further away from its normal polar abode.
In the US, they noted, “If other factors converge, the aurora can be seen over parts of Pennsylvania, Iowa, to northern Oregon.”