Sun launches explosion of electromagnetic energy towards Earth

A spectacular display of the northern lights is possible Wednesday night as far south as Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Communication disruptions could come, as well.

The sun just released the equivalent of a massive solar belch, sending highly charged coronal matter across the solar system. Some of the sun’s energy will reach our atmosphere Wednesday night and Thursday, motivating stargazers to look toward the night sky in anticipation of the colorful, shimmering northern lights.Solar material is captured erupting from the sun November 29.Solar material is captured erupting from the sun November 29.

After several months of hiatus, the sun has awoken into a new period of solar activity. An impressive solar flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) December 7 hurled plasma and magnetic field toward earth.

If your favorite radio station crackles with static or your GPS strays by a few yards, it’s not just another byproduct of a crazy year. The incoming solar weather can actually cause communication disruptions such as GPS positioning errors and interference within our power gridNOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center says that the potential exists for strong storm levels “if the magnetic field carried with the CME connects well with Earth’s magnetosphere.”article video

Of course, a pleasant effect of the incoming solar activity will be a dazzling display of the aurora borealis. Because of the strength of the storm, the northern lights might be visible to many who usually don’t get to see them. NOAA’s Geomagnetic Storm Index, which indicates the magnitude of the solar activity, is predicting a Kp Index of 7 (out of 9), which corresponds to aurora activity as far south as Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Seattle.

The incoming solar particles and magnetic fields released from the sun during a CME force the release of particles already trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. This triggers reactions forcing photons of light activated by oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere.NOAA's Geomagnetic Storm Index measures the intensity of solar activity and how far south the aurora borealis could be observed.NOAA’s Geomagnetic Storm Index measures the intensity of solar activity and how far south the aurora borealis could be observed.