Storms on the Sun to Spur Dazzling Northern Lights in Upper U.S.
(Bloomberg) -- A solar storm is set to hit Earth on Saturday, touching off geomagnetic activity that could make the Northern Lights visible as far south as New York’s Hudson Valley.
The sun blasted out millions of tons of ionized gas from one of five sun-spot clusters on Thursday. The wave of solar energy may deliver a celestial show for sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere when it hits, though for observers along the Eastern Seaboard the potential for weekend rain may dampen viewing opportunities.
“We think the initial impact will happen during the daylight hours, so for aurora enthusiasts in the U.S., we are looking at overnight of the 30th into 31st for the best chance to see the aurora,” said William Murtagh, director of the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center.
The solar storm is rated as G3 on the five-step scale for ranking such events, lower than the level where power grid operators become concerned. When a wave of solar energy hits Earth’s magnetic field it will often create an aurora at the poles. In the Northern Hemisphere this is often called the Northern Lights and can appear as colorful ribbons in the sky or just flickering.
When the flare erupted on Thursday, it caused a strong radio blackout storm -- the kind that can disrupt some high-frequency radio broadcasts and low-frequency navigation. Of the five sunspot clusters, those large magnetic storms that appear darker than the rest of the sun, only two are likely to cause the Earth any trouble, Murtagh said.
Sunspot activity waxes and wanes on an 11-year cycle. A new cycle began last year and the number of sunspots are expected to peak sometime in 2025.
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