A solar storm could make the aurora borealis could be visible as far south as New York and Chicago on Saturday. A new sunspot fired a small solar flare on Wednesday that lasted over an hour. The flat caused some problems for radio operators in Europe and Africa, but its follow up is what is likely to really make an impact.
The flare was quickly followed up by more sun action in the form of a moving, massive cloud of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). The particles will collide with Earth’s magnetic field and may boost the intensity of what we know as the northern and southern lights or the Aurora.
Aurora pushes south
The Aurora in both poles is caused by the sun's particles that are constantly moving towards or plant. These particles are best seen from the earth's extremes but the CME may have given them enough of a boost for the phenomena to be uncommonly seen in southern cities too.
The difference between a solar flare and a CME is well explained by NASA who says: "The flare is like the muzzle flash, which can be seen anywhere in the vicinity. The CME is like the cannonball, propelled forward in a single, preferential direction." CME travel at over a million miles per hour and the hot plasma might take about three days to reach Earth.
Storms potential to destroy communication systems
The differences between CME and solar flares is best seen through solar telescopes. Flares will appear as a bright light and CMEs appear as enormous fans of gas swelling into space. Even though this storm might bring the Aurora south, it isn’t a big storm by histories standards. One of the most intense solar storms on record occurred in 1859 known as the Carrington Event.
The storm was so powerful that it is said to have created aurora visible almost worldwide. The high number of particles also caused telegraph wires to burst into flames. A repeat of such an intense solar event could wreak havoc on our electromagnetically based communication system. High-frequency radio waves, and GPS can all be affected.
Sun shrugs off slow day
The sun has been inactive for most of 2018 and 2019 so far, this latest activity might just be the start of a prolonged period of renewed activity. However, we will get some warning. Just like weather on Earth scientist have the ability to predict weather patterns and changes on Earth, too.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center uses simulations to help it predict when the next CME will arrive on Earth. Companies such as airlines and power companies can be given early warning to help them prepare.