TAMPA, FL (WFLA) — Planet Earth is under a Geomagnetic Storm Watch on Sunday and, luckily, that isn’t as scary as it sounds.
In fact, some people in these situations pack up and hop on a plane — not to flee to safety, but to view the beautiful result: auroras, or the Northern Lights.
It all starts with a solar flare on the surface of the sun. According to NASA, solar flares are a sudden explosion of energy as a result of crossing or reorganizing magnetic field lines near sunspots. Just like we have different conditions in our atmosphere from day to day, so does the sun. Solar activity, like flares, are not uncommon, but some periods of time are far more active than others. The intensity and size of each flare also varies.
When the sun ejects energy in the form of a solar flare, that radiation travels through space and can impact Earth, which is why we monitor it. Radiation can sometimes interfere with radio communications.
When monitoring solar activity, scientists watch for a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) which is a giant bubble of radiation exploding into space at a fast speed. CMEs sometime happen with a solar flare when the sun’s magnetic fields reorganize.
When the giant bubbles of radiation make it to the Earth’s atmosphere, they can trigger intense light shows in the sky, called auroras. A common name for them is also the Northern Lights.
Conversely, in a worst case scenario, the radiation can cause electricity and power outages.
Scientists recorded a partial halo CME and determined based on it’s size and intensity, that Earth will experience geomagnetic storm conditions early to mid-day Sunday. They expect G2, or moderate storm levels, and it’s predicted to cause hours of brilliant aurora.
G2 storm conditions can trigger voltage alarms in power systems that are highest above sea level. Similar areas may see damage to transformers during geomagnetic storms that are prolonged in duration.
NASA predicts that we will most likely not see any disruptions as a result of this CME, but they do predict brilliant aurora, venturing as far south as the northern edge of the U.S.