Sunspot AR2158 released two solar flares in the last two days that will likely impact earth. The strongest occurred yesterday and was in the highest "X" classification of flares. This X1.6 class flare was earth directed making it even more interesting.
Image courtesy of NASA
When this X1.6 solar flare occurred it created what is called a called a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME. These CMEs eject large amounts of blazing hot debris from the sun into space. When these are directed at Earth, we can see very active Auroras (Northern Lights) and even some communication disruptions. Yesterday's flare did indeed produce a CME that is now racing at earth at 1,400 km/second or about 3 million MPH. This is where things get interesting. NOAA is predicting a G2 level geomagnetic storm for Friday night and a strong G3 level geomagnetic storm watch for Saturday night. I want to describe what that means and how far south the Auroras (Northern Lights) will be visibile.
What Is A G3 Level Geomagnetic Storm?
NOAA and the Space Weather Prediction Center uses a scale to describe the strength and frequency of geomagnetic storms. These geomagnetic storms occur when the charged particles from the sun crash into the magnetic field of the earth after these large "CMEs" occur. NOAA is classifying tonight's geomagnetic storm as a G3. G3 class geomagnetic storms occur about 130 times every 11 years and they are considered strong. Here are some of the possible impacts.
- Power systems: voltage corrections may be required, false alarms triggered on some protection devices.
- Spacecraft operations: surface charging may occur on satellite components, drag may increase on low-Earth-orbit satellites, and corrections may be needed for orientation problems.
Other systems: intermittent satellite navigation and low-frequency radio navigation problems may occur, HF radio may be intermittent, and aurora has been seen as low as Illinois and Oregon (typically 50° geomagnetic lat.).
Now that you know the impacts, let's see who could get a rare glimpse of the Auroras (Northern Lights)!
Viewing The Auroras In Our Area?
This is where things get a bit tough. G3 geomagnetic storms do normally produce Auroras that are visible in the mid latitudes where we live, but how far south is not immediately clear. The SWPC produces graphics showing how far south the Aururas will be visible, but only 24 hours in advance. We will try to post the Aurora Oval when it is released Saturday to give you probabilities of viewing the Northern Lights in Kentuckiana. I will say there is some info coming from SWPC that cast some doubt on the Auroras being viewable this far south, but it is something to way.
The next obvious question... will the weather cooperate on Saturday night?
Will There Be Any Clearing Saturday Night?
The data is suggesting that that we will cloud up Friday night but should clear Saturday night with very low dewpoints. Honestly, this would be perfect if the Auroras are visible this far south.
The bottom line... the skies look mostly clear on Saturday night and visibility should be very good with cool temps and low humidities. If we do get a G3 geomagnetic storm on Saturday night, this will be worth attempting to view! More on this opportunity in the coming days.
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