A widespread display of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is already taking place across the Northern Hemisphere on Thursday night as a result of a moderate-to-strong geomagnetic storm.
The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado issued a moderate geomagnetic storm warning through 11 p.m. ET, and a strong geomagnetic storm watch for Friday.
As of Thursday at 5 p.m. ET, there were already social media reports of aurora activity spotted from the UK and other parts of Europe, with the expectation that people in areas of North America as far south as an east-to-west line from New York to Seattle may be able to spot them if the sky is clear enough and the storm continues.
Auroras are produced when charged particles from the sun — carried on the solar wind — slam into Earth’s magnetic field.
Some of those charged particles slip through the magnetic field and impact neutrally charged particles in the planet’s upper atmosphere, causing them to glow in greens, blues, purples and more.
Usually, auroras can only be seen in the highest latitudes on Earth, but when major solar storms impact the planet, it can cause the oval of the aurora to shift farther south, giving folks in different parts of the world a chance to see the cosmic lights.
Major geomagnetic storms can cause issues for satellites in space: The charged particles streaming from the sun can increase drag on objects and even create electrical issues for spacecraft. Severe storms could even affect electrical grids on Earth, potentially causing widespread power outages, though those kinds of solar storms are few and far between.
The ongoing geomagnetic storm, which began to hit Earth on Oct. 12, is not expected to cause such large disruptions. A separate, potentially stronger storm, caused by a similar Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), is anticipated to hit on Friday.
A huge solar storm that struck the Earth in 1859, called the Carrington Event, was so strong it lit telegraph lines on fire, according to some reports. That storm was caused by a huge burst of hot plasma slamming into the Earth after being shot out from the sun.
The latest event, which stems from a CME from the sun, comes on the same day as President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order to prepare the U.S. for space weather events, such as a powerful geomagnetic storm that could disrupt GPS satellite navigation, cripple the electrical grid and interfere with the transportation network.
The order directs the departments of Defense, Interior, Homeland Security and Commerce — along with NASA — to work together to better understand and predict the sun’s behavior. The order calls for improvements to be made in research and prediction and would also involve other agencies including the National Science Foundation and the State Department.
Miriam Kramer contributed to this story.
from Mashable! http://ift.tt/2dfDihW