Severe solar storm expected to supercharge northern lights on Friday

by 24USATVMay 10, 2024, 4 p.m. 19

A severe solar storm is expected to supercharge the northern lights on Friday, with forecasts indicating that auroras could be seen as far south in the United States as Alabama.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center said Thursday that a series of solar flares and eruptions from the sun could trigger severe geomagnetic storms and “spectacular displays of aurora” on Earth from Friday evening through the weekend.

It was the first severe geomagnetic storm watch the agency has issued since 2005.

“We have a rare event on our hands,” said Shawn Dahl, a service coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. "We're a little concerned. We haven't seen this in a long time."

Because strong geomagnetic storms have the power to disrupt communications and power grids on Earth, as well as satellites in space, Dahl said satellite and grid operators have been notified to prepare.

He said forecasters predict the storm could arrive as soon as about 8 p.m. ET on Friday.

"We’re less certain on the timing of these events, because we’re talking about something for 93 million miles away," Dahl said, referring to the distance from the sun to the Earth.

A NASA spacecraft orbiting about 1 million miles from Earth, called the Advanced Composition Explorer, will help forecasters measure the solar wind and understand the timing and potential effects more precisely.

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, come from charged particles that spew from the sun during solar storms. The colorful displays are created when clouds of these energetic particles slam into Earth’s magnetic field and interact with the atoms and molecules in the planet’s upper atmosphere.

The northern lights typically light up the night sky at high latitudes, but during intense periods of solar activity, they can be spotted farther south than usual.


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