NASA Confirms New Solar Storm: Northern Lights Expected to Shine Again

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on May 14, 2024 11:30
Why Did May's Solar Storms Create the Best Auroras in Centuries?

Scientists have warned that a new and strong solar storm may hit Earth this week, following major eruptions from the Sun that impacted our planet.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the solar storm has a 60% chance of hitting Earth on Tuesday (May 14), with a lesser probability on Wednesday.

The X account of NASA Sun and Space also tweeted the news, stating that an M6.6-class (not as powerful as last week's) solar flare erupted on May 13.

The Sun has been emitting tremendous flares, which include massive amounts of charged particles that have accelerated in speed and risen in number as a result of intense magnetic activity on its surface, as part of its 11-year solar cycle.

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NOAA classified it as a G2-class geomagnetic storm of “Moderate” strength. These occur approximately 600 times per solar cycle. In high latitudes, they may damage transformers and cause voltage warnings in power systems.

Strong radiation from charged particles can also endanger humans in orbit and disrupt electrical grids.

Last week's celestial drama was captured by skywatchers all around the world in the form of beautiful auroras that painted the skies in vivid pink, green, and purple colors.

Skywatchers from Northern Europe to Tasmania, Australia, were able to snap magnificent photos as a result of the rare phenomenon.

According to NOAA, the latest wave of solar storms will also produce auroras.

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Friday's storm was classified as having level five geomagnetic conditions, the highest rating on the scale. Saturday observed G3 to G5 conditions, with G4 or higher expected on Sunday.

How Does a Solar Storm Occur?

Solar storms happen when an ongoing supply of charged particles from the Sun is ejected into space and finally strikes the Earth.

Solar storms begin with a massive explosion on the sun. These outbursts, known as solar flares, can be roughly as powerful as billions of nuclear bombs!

Solar flares are frequently associated with the release of massive streams of charged plasma travelling at millions of miles per hour. These streams are known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. When CMEs strike the Earth, they can trigger geomagnetic storms that impair satellites and power infrastructure.

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The Northern Lights, commonly known as the aurora borealis, are created by CMEs emitted from the Sun, which send out atoms with electric charges, known as charged particles, into space.

The lights arise when charged particles collide with gases in the Earth's atmosphere.

The two most abundant gases in the Earth's atmosphere are oxygen and nitrogen. Nitrogen atoms glow purple, blue, and pink, but oxygen atoms glow green, the color most commonly observed in the Northern Lights.

Can Solar Storms Interfere with Technology?

Solar storms, while not directly harming to humans, can disrupt electronics on and around the planet. According to NASA, while dangerous radiation from a solar flare cannot penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and physically damage humans on the ground, these events can nonetheless have serious implications.

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Particularly powerful solar storms have the ability to disturb the Earth's atmosphere, namely the layer through which GPS and communication signals flow. This interference can cause interruptions in satellite communications, navigation systems, and even power grids, emphasizing the need for understanding and minimizing the effects of solar activity on our technology infrastructure.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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