May 25, 2024

A furious solar storm powerful enough to knock out or disrupt satellite and communications systems, the power grid and radio signals raged Friday, space weather researchers warned.

The severity of the geomagnetic storm that has driven several solar flares toward Earth in recent days also brings a spectacular bonus for sky watchers: a rare but beautiful view of the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, in places where they rarely be seen the USA.

More commonly seen only in Alaska and Canada, the display may be visible overnight in states including California, Colorado, Missouri and Virginia, and perhaps as far south as Alabama.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a large sunspot cluster has several moderate to strong solar flares since Wednesday morning.

At least five coronal mass ejections (CMEs) of varying intensity, and consisting of electrified, magnetic gas, are expected to coalesce and arrive at Earth late Friday or early Saturday, the agency said, prompting it to announce the first serious geomagnetic to issue a storm watch. since January 2005.

“We have a very rare event on our hands,” Shawn Dall, Noaa’s senior space weather specialist, told a Friday press briefing.

“A series of CMEs are headed right at us, some are catching up with others. These severe levels are quite unusual, and critical infrastructure operators have been notified.”

The solar storm is classified as G4, the equivalent of a category four hurricane, and originates from a large and magnetically complex sunspot cluster 16 times the diameter of Earth, located in an area of ​​the sun called Noaa region 3664.

“The worst situation would historically be from 1859 and the Carrington event, when a CME arrived at Earth and extraordinary things happened,” Dall said. “We don’t expect it, but we can’t discount a G5.”

Dall said a better indication of possible effect could come later Friday when the ejections reach the European Space Agency L1 satellite at the first so-called Lagrange point in space.

“We won’t know until the CMEs arrive 1m miles from Earth. If we reach G4, there could be some infrastructure effects,” he said.

The most recent event of similar or greater magnitude was October 2003 “Halloween” G5 solar stormswhich produced a multitude of what Nasa described as “spooky auroras” but wreaked havoc with the global power grid, particularly in Sweden and South Africa.

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Like the 2003 storms, this week’s activity will be a beautiful sky show of the northern lights in states as far south as Alabama.

The sunspot is visible from Earth to those with telescopes and cameras with special solar filters, or who have kept their safety glasses from last month’s. total solar eclipse which traversed Mexico, much of the US and Canada.

Despite its massive size, almost 125,000 miles in diameter, the sunspot appears as a tiny dot on the sun’s surface.

Brent Gordon, the head of the Space Weather Forecast Service, said the solar event will last at least until Sunday.

“We’re not quite sure what to expect, although we expect to see one shock arrive followed by possibly one or two others,” he said.

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