Solar Storm Could Amp Up Earth's Northern Lights

Lloyd Doyle
March 17, 2018

After a year filled with eclipses and supermoons, sky watchers in the US are getting another light show tonight because of a solar storm sweeping across the planet.

According to the scientists from SWPC, Wednesday's geomagnetic storm is qualified as a G1 class, which is the most minor event class and will last from Wednesday until Thursday (March 15.) Solar storms come from what scientists refer to as a coronal hole.

The storm could have minor impacts on satellite functionality and cause fluctuations in weak power grids, but such impacts are unlikely, forecasters said. The colorful light show is caused by Earth's magnetic field funneling the charged particles of solar winds to the north and south poles.

In the United States, the spectacle could light up above Alaska and the country's "northern tier", including Montana, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

Tonight's minor solar storm will most likely affect Earth's northern regions, with aurora displays possible in northern parts of Scotland, Ireland and England. A G5 storm is the strongest. The resulting geomagnetic storm can disrupt power grids and communications systems. Residents in states like Michigan, Minnesota, the Dakotas, and ME will get the best look at the aurora.

The phenomenon is known as aurora borealis, or the northern lights, in the northern hemisphere and as aurora australis, or the southern lights, in the southern hemisphere.

Researchers also study the sun to learn more about its structure as well as obtain data to make predictions about different types of solar flares.

Auroras occur when high-energy particles emitted by the sun collide with and penetrate Earth's magnetosphere.

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