More Northern Lights soon as Sun storms strengthen

More Northern Lights soon as Sun storms strengthen - Merchant Navy Info - News

We all love the bright northern lights. There is great news for anyone who loved the show-stopping aurora borealis last weekend – or missed it. There are more northern lights on the way.

The huge sunspot cluster that moved energy and gas toward Earth will rotate back toward Earth in around two weeks.

Scientists say it will likely still be large and complex enough to generate more explosions. The explosions could hit Earth’s magnetic field, creating more Northern Lights.

Since last Saturday, the Sun has continued pumping out increased radiation. There was a huge solar flare on Tuesday that disrupted high-frequency radio communications globally.

The Sun Nearing Solar Maximum Causing More Northern Lights

People love colors including the northern lights. That happens when the Sun’s magnetic poles flip – a process that creates sunspots that fire out material, generating space weather. It generates the lovely northern lights

This solar cycle is the 25th since humans started systematically observing sunspots in 1755. It was expected to be quiet, but scientists say it is looking stronger than expected.

The intensity of a cycle is estimated by the number of these sunspots.

The Sun's poles are expected to flip anytime from now into 2025 - Merchant Navy Info

But that doesn’t actually tell us how strong the storms will be when they reach Earth, she says.

The geomagnetic storm last weekend was a one-in-30-year event. This is the biggest since 2003.

It was caused by at least five coronal mass ejections (CMEs). This includes eruptions of magnetic fields and solar storms – leaving the Sun in close succession.

Auroras Expected All Weekend Across the U.S. as Massive Solar Storm Hits Earth

They Took Around 18 Hours To Reach Earth

This magnetosphere is what shields us from all that immensely powerful radiation – without it, there would be no life on Earth.

The storm turned out to be so powerful it had a G5 alert rating – the highest given by forecasters at the Met Office and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Stories of its impacts on global communications, power grids, and GPS have trickled in.

These storms are not just about pretty lights – there is a downside, explains Ian Muirhead, a space systems researcher at the University of Manchester:

“We’re much more technologically dependent now than we were even in the last major storm in 2003. A lot of our services come from space – we don’t even realize – it’s the glue that holds together a lot of our economy.”

SpaceX owner Elon Musk said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the storm put his Starlink satellites that provide internet “under a lot of pressure”. A spokesperson working with the European Space Agency (ESA) says the Starlinks had voltage spikes.

Satellites we rely on for GPS and navigation also had signal disturbance as the extra radiation pulsed towards Earth, ESA said.

A flight from San Francisco to Paris was re-routed to avoid flying over the Arctic where radiation was stronger, explains Dr Elvidge.

Farmers are Being Impacted By The Solar Storm While The World Looks at Northern Lights

Farmers who use tractors with high-precision GPS reported being affected, and manufacturer John Deere warned users about outages.

And a satellite operated by UK company Sen that films Earth in high definition was put in an “idle” state for four days, meaning it missed taking images of events like the wildfires in Canada, the company said.

There was stress on power grids too, as the extra current surged through electricity systems.

In New Zealand, which has a similar electricity grid to the UK, the national grid switched off some circuits across the country as a precaution to prevent damage to equipment.

The UK National Grid said there was no impact on electricity transmission. The Energy Networks Association, which represents the UK’s electricity network operators, said it took precautions like ensuring “extra backup generation to deal with any voltage fluctuations that may occur.”

Space weather is not just a threat remote from us on Earth – something happening out there. The government considers the risks from extreme space weather greater than from earthquakes or wildfires.

On its national risk register, which also covers health pandemics like COVID-19, extreme space weather is rated “four” for likelihood and impact. “One” is for events with the lowest risk, and “five” is the highest.

Extreme storms can cause deaths not just Northern Lights

An extreme space storm – more powerful than the one last weekend – could cause deaths and injuries through power failures, not just northern lights.

“Mobile back-up power generation would be required in some areas for a sustained period, while damaged electricity transformers are replaced, which could take several months,” it warns.

Power in urban areas could be back within hours, it says, but for people living in remote areas by the sea, it could take months for electricity transformers to be replaced.

The worst-case scenario is what people in the space weather community call a “Carrington-level event”.

They’re talking about a huge solar storm one night in 1859. The night saw aurora worldwide so bright that people started to make breakfast because they thought it was daytime. It was the ultimate northern lights experience.

So much current was generated that telegraph operators in Canada continued transmitting even when they manually disconnected equipment for safety. Fires broke out from damaged equipment.

That same event today could be catastrophic.

Forecasting and Prediction will save the day

Forecasters like Krista Hammond monitor satellites 24 hours a day for solar activity.

They issued alerts to governments and critical infrastructure providers about last weekend’s horde of CMEs heading to Earth hours in advance.

“Our White House situation room is informed about it. Messages come down through our emergency channels down to local governments,” says Shawn Dahl, space weather forecaster at NOAA.

That forecasting and preparation may explain why. That, despite the doomsday warnings that extreme weather could take out power for days, we actually appear to have seen few obvious impacts of the storm last weekend.

“We are relatively well prepared for these,” explains Mr Muirhead.

Local councils and emergency services test scenarios. These include plans to make sure ambulances can still navigate if they lose GPS connection.

But he says the issue of power supply is sensitive, with commercial implications. Also, companies may not be willing to disclose how much stress was placed on the network.

Space weather forecasting is young compared to atmospheric weather. However, as we learn more about the Sun and send more equipment into space. Thus, predicting the next superstorm will get closer and closer.

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