A government agency charged with monitoring space weather has warned of a strong solar storm that could disrupt power grids, satellites, and radio signals. However, it may also have sent the stunning northern lights extremely far south overnight into Thursday (Nov. 4)
The Space Weather Prediction Center, an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA), is monitoring a series outbursts that started Monday (Nov. The sun has been producing several coronal mass eruptions (CMEs) since then. These are bubbles of magnetic field and hot gas that come from the sun's surface. While such activity can be produced anywhere on the sun, these CMEs have traveled out to space towards Earth, making them particularly interesting for humans. One of those eruptions was dubbed a "cannibal CME", by sun-weather trackers, after it overtook an earlier storm.
According to a NOAA statement, SWPC advised that the current geomagnetic storm could have serious consequences for people's lives.
Similar: Sun outburst becomes 'cannibalized' when a faster blob takes over a slower one
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NOAA has a number of satellites capable of detecting CMEs. According to a statement, the CME responsible today's possible impacts reached DSCOVR spacecraft late Wednesday night, and then reached GOES-16 about 15 minutes later. DSCOVR is approximately 1 million miles (1 million km) from Earth, in the direction the sun. GOES-16, on geostationary orbit around 22,200 miles (35 800 km) above the equator, monitors the East Coast of U.S.
NOAA also noted that spacecraft could be affected by phenomena such as surface charging or orientation problems. The storm could also interfere with high-frequency radio signals at high altitudes which could impact long-distance plane flights.
This is not all bad news. According to the NOAA statement, the geomagnetic storm could bring out spectacular northern lights. The display may have been visible overnight from Wednesday to Thursday from Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon and other points north. Although auroras can also be seen during the day, they are more difficult to see against a bright sky.
The display could continue, SWPC's geomagnetic forecast indicates. G1 is for minor storms, and G3 is for strong storms. A forecast published on Thursday morning reads, "G1 storm level continues to be met and the solar wind conditions remain enhanced and elevated, maintaining the potential for further periods of G2-G3-level storms."
SWPC produces visual aurora forecasts for both the northern hemisphere and the southern hemispheres in addition to technical forecasts.
Space weather is a collective term for CMEs and any other solar activity that could affect conditions throughout the solar system. Space weather is usually tied to the sun’s 11-year activity cycles. The sun is currently in the early stages of "solar cycle 25," which scientists call the peak period. It is expected to peak in 2025.
Editor's Note: This guide will help you find the best places to view the northern lights and how to edit them. If you want to capture the aurora on film, check out our recommendations for the best equipment and tips for editing aurora photos. Our roundups of the top astrophotography cameras and lenses can help you be ready for any aurora event.
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