27Jul2017

Solar Storm Shocks the North Pole & Surrounding Areas

 

solar flare

By NASA Goddard Space Flight Center – Flickr: Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun – August 31, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Russia, Canada and even parts of the United States experienced the effects of a moderate G2 geomagnetic storm this past weekend. Residents and travelers were treated to auroras, while parts of Asia experienced radio blackouts. Learn more about what causes these storms, as well as this solar storm’s impact, below.

What Are Solar Storms

Solar radiation storms are the result of a large-scale magnetic eruption. The Sun features sunspots, which cause these explosions and vary in number based on the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle. Right now, the Sun is progressing to its solar minimum — meaning fewer sunspots and lowered sunspot activity.

AR2665, one of the Sun’s sunspots, produced the solar radiation storm that impacted Earth last weekend. When these storms happen, the eruption may cause a coronal mass ejection (CME) and solar flare. AR2665 produced both.

CMEs show as gas, while flares appear as bright lights when viewed through a solar telescope. A way to visualize the two is like a cannon. Solar flares are the muzzle flash, and CMEs are the cannon balls. Both produce a substantial amount of energy through charged particles, in response to the magnetic eruption.

Flares reach Earth within minutes and can cause interruptions or blackouts to radio and other communication transmissions. CMEs take a bit longer to arrive and may produce auroras, as well as electrical and communication issues.

How Solar Storms Cause Auroras

Auroras result from Earth’s magnetic field, as well as oxygen and nitrogen. When the solar particles from a CME rush past Earth, they can interact with the planet’s magnetic fields.

Currents develop and direct a CME’s solar particles towards the North and South poles. The reason why the particles head to the poles is due to magnetism. Solar storms are a large-scale magnetic eruption. Earth’s magnetic field, which is strongest at the poles, pulls those magnetic particles inward.

By entering the Earth’s atmosphere, solar particles or electrons encounter and react with oxygen and nitrogen. This reaction produces colorful auroras, as seen last weekend. An aurora’s colors depend on several factors, like the energy exchanged and the altitude of where the reaction took place.

Auroras can appear faint or vibrant in the night sky, but are prone to disappearing without warning.

Where the Solar Storm Hit

Countries across the world, including New Zealand, Russia, Canada and the U.S. experienced the solar storm from the past weekend. Rated as a G2 storm by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the solar storm risked causing:

  • Damage to high-latitude power systems.
  • Fluctuations in energy-grid activity.
  • Interruption of radio communications at high-latitude.
  • Formation of auroras in high-latitude locations.

While Asia did experience minor radio blackouts, in response to the solar flare, the biggest result of the storm was auroras.

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Written By: Megan Ray Nichols – Science Writer  www.schooledbyscience.com/about/  Contact: nicholsrmegan@gmail.com

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