US and UK to Witness Northern Lights Due to Recent Solar Storms

Source: Wikimedia/AstroAnthony

Most of us look up at the stars in wonder. The universe is vast, and it only takes a look up to the night sky to realize exactly how big everything is, exactly how small we are. Every now and then, though, there are even more blatant examples of the wonder of the universe, and when those occurrences happen, they’re meant to be enjoyed.

Stunning Visual Displays Above

Recent events on the surface of the sun have led to particularly spectacular predictions regarding the skies above our head. A severe solar storm on the surface of the sun was recently reported to be in progress, giving a heads up to some spectacular sights above. 

Source: Wikimedia/Varjisakka

Solar storms are caused by coronal mass ejections, when clouds of plasma erupt from the sun’s outer atmosphere. Particles stream towards the earth, creating a spectacular visual display as the particles hit the magnetic field of the Earth.

Northern and Southern Lights

This visual display is known as the Northern and Southern lights. They are visual displays of bright, shifting lights in the sky, and are more typically seen close to the magnetic poles of the earth, in northern Canada and Antarctica. 

Source: Wikimedia/United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

The magnetic poles of the earth drift with the turning of the planet, and are different from the geographic poles that everyone knows at the North and South poles. Auroras are often seen near the magnetic poles due to the fact that they are a result of disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by the solar wind.

How Do Auroras Form?

The lights are seen during solar storms because these types of spacial storms cause enhancements in the speed of solar wind. This alters the trajectories of charged particles in the magnetospheric plasma, resulting in ionization and excitation of the particles.

Source: Wikimedia/Brocken Inaglory

The ionization of the particles is what causes the light of varying color and complexity to be seen in the sky. Auroras are typically seen as green shifting lights in the sky, though there have been occurrences of rarer blue and red auroras being seen at various points as well. 

Auroras Far From Home

While auroras are often seen close to the magnetic poles of the earth, disruptions such as solar storms can cause them to be seen significantly further away. The current batch of solar storms that scientists are observing is expected to throw the lights much further away from their usual locations. 

Source: Wikimedia/NAsa Astronaut photograph from ISS

In fact, the lights will be potentially visible in the United States as far south as the midwest, as well as northern Britain in Europe. In the South, the auroras could be visible as far north as Victoria, to Western Australia. 

Rating High on the Kaus Index

Australia Bureau of Meteorology’s (BoM) space weather forecasting center issued an aurora alert after the solar storm peaked at 6 on the Kaus Index, which is a scale of one to eight measuring geomagnetic activity.

Source: Wikimedia/Wa17gs

The high level of the storm means that it’s possible that auroras could be visible all across Tasmania, as well as along Victoria’s coastline and even on western Australia’s south west coast. This is very far north for southern auroras, making this a stunning display for Australians interested in astrology to observe.

Solar Storm Disruptions

Auroras are only a part of the disruptions that can be seen from solar storms, and are relatively benign. More severe storms can disrupt power networks and the satellites that provide navigation, as well as posing a radiation risk to astronauts and people in high-flying aircraft.

Source: Wikimedia/Jamen Percy

Solar flares come and go with the solar calendar, with storms occurring as often as every 27 days. However, this particular solar cycle has lasted 11 years, and Macquarie University astronomer Stuart Ryder believes that the cycle is very near its peak. 

An 11-Year Cycle

“It goes from a relatively benign, calm state with very few sunspots on the surface, to a very active phase about five or six years later, with a maximum number of sunspots,” he said. “It’s much more likely to release huge flares of energy, enormous quantities of charged particles radiating away from the sun.”

Source: Wikimedia/Nina Matthews

He went on to explain that the massive release of energy from the sun is what causes the auroras, as well as what allows them to be seen at such different latitudes than usual. “The more powerful the flare and the more it puts out, the greater the chance that people who live more towards the equator might get to see them.”

The Current Cycle Began in 2019

A spokesperson from the BoM said that the current solar cycle began in 2019. “The original prediction…was that solar maximum for this cycle would be reached in 2025, however, recent consensus among space weather researchers is that this cycle is likely to peak earlier.”

Source: Wikimedia/Carl Young

“This implies a higher level of solar activity over the next few years, but significant space weather can occur at other times in the cycle too.”

Important for Safety

Tracking solar storms is important not only for the progression of science, but for the safety of people all over the world. Solar storms can have significant impacts beyond just the aurora, and it’s important for individuals all over the world to be aware of what solar storms can do. 

Source: Wikimedia/Dre Erwin Photography

For instance, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm on record occurred in 1859, known as the Carrington Event. The storm was so severe that it actually managed to disable parts of the newly created United States telegraph network, and started fires along with shocking some telegraph operators.

Multiple Geomagnetic Events Since

There have been multiple significant geomagnetic events in the years since the Carrington Event. In 1921, a geomagnetic storm was recorded, with a significant disruption of telegraph service and more initiations of fires. In 1960, a storm disrupted radio signals, causing massive disruptions.

Source: Wikimedia/Dre Erwin Photography

A more recent event occurred in March of 1989. A geomagnetic storm caused the collapse of the Hydro-Quebec power grid in seconds, and six million people were left without power for nine hours while they got the grid back online. That particular storm caused aurorae as far south as Texas and Florida, and was the result of a coronal mass ejected from the sun. 

Physical Damage to Satellites

More than issues in communication and electrical grids, though, geomagnetic activity can cause physical damage, particularly to satellite hardware. This is because increased solar ultraviolet emissions heat Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing it to expand. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The heated air rises, and the density at the orbit of satellites increases significantly. This density increase causes increased drag, which forces satellites to slow and change their orbits slightly. Low Earth orbit satellites that are not boosted to higher orbits will slowly fall and eventually burn up due to this pattern. 

A Significant Field of Study

The dangers surrounding solar activity makes it a very important field to study, even when the results of solar storms are as benign as auroras. It’s still a clear visual reminder of the vastness of the universe, as well as the temporary nature of stars such as our sun. 

Source: Wikimedia/Dre Erwin Photography

Understanding solar activity not only helps scientists to predict when the next flare will occur and keep people safe, it also helps to greater understand the wider universe. Stars are born and die every day, and it’s an important cycle to understand, if a little morbid to consider in the context of our own sun. 

A Rare  Event

Seeing the Northern and Southern lights is an event that many people don’t get to experience. While individuals who live in Alaska, or northern Canada or Scotland might be used to the sight, for those unable to visit those places, it’s quite a treat.

Source: Wikimedia/WikiLucas00

The best time to observe the Northern lights is late at night, preferably on an evening without clouds. However, it’s always best to be cautious. Never forget that, though beautiful, the lights are a result of significant astrological activity that could ultimately have a major impact not only on what we see in the night sky, but our lives as a whole.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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