Officials announced yesterday that a ‘moderate’ geomagnetic storm would hit Earth and would gradually grow weaker over the next couple of days. This storm is caused by the Earth’s transition into strong solar winds erupting from a hole in the Sun’s corona. It was expected that the storm would disrupt power grids, satellites and radio navigation systems but it looks like it hasn’t done so yet. However, it certainly is putting up a great show in the night sky! Solar storms like these are caused by the coronal holes in the sun that look like gloomy black patches in the outer atmosphere.
Coronal Holes and a serious warning?
Now coronal holes aren’t exactly ‘holes’ as they are commonly referred as. They are in fact temporary low density regions that appear dark as they are facing much cooler temperatures than their surroundings. We aren’t exactly sure that what causes these holes to form but we do know that once these low density regions come into being, a stream of electrically charged particles (solar wind) escapes from the Sun’s atmosphere at a rate that is three times faster than usual. Now interestingly enough, it should be noted that if a coronal hole is big enough and is pointing towards the earth, the wind has the ability to blast into our magnetic field at speeds around 400 km per second. This is roughly around a million miles an hour and has the potential to damage power systems, phone and internet connections.
According to Bloomberg, US Space Weather Prediction Centre had warned power stations of a serious G3 level solar storm but have now changed this warning to a moderate G2 level storm instead. The effects have been minor and the whole storm situation has been pretty dreary if one considers the high level warning that was raised before. "Voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices," said the Space Weather Prediction Centre. "Drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems." Well if it’s been so dull so what is so interesting about this storm after all?
The beauty it brings
No need to look any further because the storm may have been very uneventful on one part but it certainly brought with itself great sights for all sky gazers out there. It seems that all the interference with the Earth’s magnetic field has caused the Aurora Borealis to get supercharged. And this charging has now enabled the stunning northern lights to be visible in parts of Northern US and UK right now! AuroraWatch UK claims that the aurorae could be visible from Scotland tonight depending on how dark the viewing area is. They might also be visible via camera from Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland. These lights should also be visible in the northern parts of the US including South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Washington and Minneapolis. According to a location map from Accuweather.com, "The storm has produced two nights of good aurora displays, and tonight should be no different."
These sights can also be enjoyed in parts of Europe, including Sweden, Norway and Finland. If it’s not possible for you to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, don’t be disappointed. Just check out spaceweather.com’s real time aurora gallery where people from around the globe are posting some amazing shots of the northern lights. And one more thing, if you missed the southern lights or the aurora australis which lit up the sky last night you could still check out the shots from New Zealand and Tasmania here.