A solar storm to hit earth today, watch out for auroras

No major worries of communications blackout.
Ameya Paleja
Solar flare
Solar flare

-Vitan-/iStock 

The world might be eagerly waiting for the launch of the Artemis I rocket today, but nature has its highlights to showcase, come rain or fuel leaks. Our planet is on Aurora alert after a coronal mass ejection that was let out last Friday is expected to reach us today, Space.com reported.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occur when the Sun releases enormous amounts of radiation and highly magnetized particulate matter from its surface. CMEs usually occur after regions of high magnetic energy on the Sun's surface temporarily block the convection process. The region on the surface cools down and is visible from the telescopes on Earth as a dark spot due to its lowered temperature. Scientists call it a sunspot.

Over centuries, astronomers have observed the solar surface for the appearance of sunspots and found them to significantly increase in number as the Sun reaches the active phase of its solar cycle. The solar cycle is approximately an 11-year period when the Sun's poles flip such that the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa, flipping again over the next 11-year period.

Solar weather and auroras

As the Sun approaches its solar maximum, the appearance of sunspots has predictably increased. Not all sunspots lead to CMEs, though. Some just let out high amounts of radiation, called solar flares, which makes up for some rough space weather.

On Earth, we do not directly receive the energized particles or radiation from the Sun since the atmosphere block most of them. When it does, particles in the upper layers of the atmosphere get highly energized, leading to the formation of auroras.

Recently astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti shared some images of auroras, which according to her recent experience of staying 300 days in orbit, resulted from the most powerful solar storms she had encountered in space.

Aurora alert today

Last Friday, sunspot AR3089 gave out some M-class solar flares, which according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) classification, is a moderate level flare. The flare also caused some radio blackouts in Europe and Africa.

The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) states that the charged particles released during this solar activity will reach our planet today, August 29. The interaction of the magnetized particles with the Earth's magnetosphere is expected to create a G1-class geomagnetic storm. This isn't worrying from an infrastructure perspective, but it will surely make some stunning auroras later today.

So, keep an eye out for green skies, especially if you are close to the poles.

Since sunspots and resultant geomagnetic storms create infrastructure problems, scientists are looking for ways to predict solar storms before they even occur.

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