Intense Solar Storms Will be Adding Colors to Night Skies

Much of Northern Europe can expect aurora displays to brighten their night skies overhead as geomagnetic storms hit Earth.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), geomagnetic storm watches will be effective from 17 to 19 August 2022. These storms begin with G1 (Minor) geomagnetic storm conditions on 17 August as powerful coronal hole high-speed stream (emanating from a recurrent coronal hole) comes into contact with our Earth’s magnetic field.

But it will be the accompanying coronal mass ejections (CME) on 18 August that cranks up the storm classification to a potential G3 (Strong). Not one, not two, but multiple CMEs (erupting from the sun’s corona on 14 August) will further escalate the storms to be much stronger.

Although most CMEs are estimated to have little to no impact on Earth, at least four have potential Earth-directed components. Influences from CMEs may possibly continue on to 19 August with a potential G2 (Moderate) storm watch.

Geomagnetic storm watch for 17 to 19 August (Source: NOAA)

The U.K. weather forecaster Met Office stated that there are ten active sunspots dotting the visible side of our sun and they are generating the CMEs responsible for the geomagnetic storms coming our way. In fact, two of the CMEs have sprung from a complicated region, region 3078, known to be the largest and most active area with strong, magnetically complex spots, according to the Met Office.

Both CMEs and coronal hole high-speed streams are the culprits behind the phenomenal displays of aurora borealis further down south than their usual spots at the polar regions. The auroras are produced when high-energy solar particles crash onto our planet’s upper atmosphere, at speeds of up to 45 million mph (72 million kph)l, and the particles are pushed towards the poles by Earth’s magnetic field upon impact.

This fascinating phenomenon is usually confined to the poles. However, erratic space weather patterns, such as the current onslaught of CMEs, can steer the light show towards the equator.

On a much more cautious note, an oncoming geomagnetic storm does not commonly spell good news for space activities. However, NOAA foresees no major consequences on the global technological landscape. A G3 storm is still considered to be somewhat weak, compared to G4 and G5 storms that have the potential to bring about electrical blackouts, massive network failures, disturbances to satellite operations and even electronic damages to space infrastructure.

Just recently, in February this year, SpaceX lost 40 Starlink satellites that were disabled by a mild geomagnetic storm after being launched into low Earth orbit. Regardless of the storm conditions, it is better for space operators to take precaution in these few days.

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