'Cannibal' solar bursts may bring auroras to New York

Double-system solar flares are expected to produce auroras.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The sun is releasing two powerful solar bursts.jpg
The sun is releasing two powerful solar bursts.

NASA 

Residents of New York may be privy to beautiful aurora displays, thanks to the sun spitting out two solar bursts.

Not one but two coronal mass ejections

The two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) occurred on Aug 14 and 15, respectively, according to spaceweather.com.

It will take a total of 93,000,000 miles (150 million kilometers) for the star to get to our planet, and in the process, the two bursts may cannibalize each other, which is when they merge into a single super powerful CME.

This event happens when the sun launches two eruptions close to each other, with the second being more intense and faster than the first.

These events generally start as massive explosions on the surface of the sun. These eruptions, known as solar flares, have an explosive force comparable to billions of nuclear bombs. Large streams of charged plasma released during solar flares typically travel several million miles per hour.

Producing aurora displays

Researchers expect the double system solar flares to reach Earth on Aug. 18. and produce aurora displays that could be seen from New York and the north of England.

In June of 2021, a study revealed the science behind auroras. The University of Iowa research provided reliable evidence that powerful electromagnetic waves form auroras during geomagnetic storms through a phenomenon known as Alfven waves.

These waves accelerate electrons towards the Earth, which as a result, causes the particles to produce the light show.

Greg Howes, one of the leading researchers in the study and associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa, explains, "measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergo 'resonant acceleration' by the Alfven wave's electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave."

Before this study, a broadly accepted view was that energized particles from the sun interact with the Earth's magnetic field lines and excite oxygen and nitrogen molecules. When these excited molecules "relax," they release visible light to produce the colorful and exciting visual displays of auroras.

The geomagnetic storms which produce auroras can also trigger power blackouts, disrupt satellite links and radio communications. However, the United Kingdom's national weather service, the Met Office, has stated that the upcoming geomagnetic storm will be small and will not cause significant disruptions.

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