A geomagnetic storm watch issued for Earth on Sunday

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Artist’s representation of an active sun that has released a coronal mass ejection or CME. CMEs are magnetically generated solar phenomena that can send billions of tons of solar particles, or plasma, into space that can reach Earth one to three days later and affect electronic systems on satellites and on the ground. Credit: NASA

The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a unit of the US Department of Commerce reporting to NOAA, which sits alongside its National Terrestrial Weather Service, issued a geomagnetic storm watch for all of Earth for Sunday, September 26 for the possibility of G1 or G2 storm conditions.

On Thursday, a sunspot, known as AR2871, experienced two explosive eruptions, each producing a large M-class solar flare. Solar flares are classified by their intensity, on a BCMX scale. Flares B are the smallest while X are the largest. Similar to the Richter scale used to help quantify earthquakes, each letter represents a ten-fold increase in energy production. Within each letter class there is also a finer scale which typically ranges from 1 to 9. Within the powerful X class of flares, the number might exceed 9 to reflect a massive flare event.

While there are fears that a future blast of the sun will disrupt electricity, communications, and internet lines for weeks, this event does not appear to have that kind of potential with it. However, some impacts, including an electrified display of the Northern Lights in northern latitudes, are expected.

AR2871 initially produced an M1.8 rash and subsequent coronal mass ejection (CME). According to the SWPC, the initial analysis and execution of the model indicates a slightly slower CME overshoot that was also produced by region 2871 earlier on the 23rd with an expected arrival for the first half of September 27th.

A high speed coronal hole flow, known as CH HSS, is expected to hit Earth on the 26th at noon. The National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) said, “An isolated geomagnetic storm G1 (minor) is likely on September 26, as a positive polarity CH HSS extension from the North Crown becomes geo-efficient.” A previous discussion of space weather forecasts published by the SWPC also indicates that G2 conditions are also a possibility.

Currently the SWPC says there is a 30% chance of active geomagnetic activity only on the 26th, 40% chance of a “minor storm”, 25% chance of a “moderate storm” “And 1% chance of a” strong-extreme storm “.

The Sun is the main cause of space weather. Sometimes the Sun can be thought of as going through a “stormy” period when its surface is more active than normal. When this happens, the Sun can send streams of energized particles in all directions. When these energized particles interact with the far reaches of our atmosphere, the Northern Lights (the Northern Lights) and the Southern Lights (the Southern Lights) can result.

Graph showing NOAA space weather scales for geomagnetic storms.  Image: NOAA
Graph showing NOAA space weather scales for geomagnetic storms. Image: NOAA
Region 2864, circled here on the sun, could set the stage for more aurora displays on Earth and perhaps a full-blown geomagnetic storm.  Image: Royal Observatory of Belgium / Center of Terrestrial Solar Excellence / Center for Data and Analysis of Solar Influences
Region 2864, circled here on the sun, could set the stage for more aurora displays on Earth and perhaps a full-blown geomagnetic storm. Image: Royal Observatory of Belgium / Center of Terrestrial Solar Excellence / Center for Data and Analysis of Solar Influences

The dark regions of the Sun known as coronal holes are a major driver of space weather today. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center, coronal holes appear as dark regions on the Sun because they are cooler than the surrounding plasma and are open magnetic field lines. The Sun’s outermost part of its atmosphere, known as the corona, is where these dark regions appear. The solar corona was also one of the main features of the Sun that scientists were most excited to study during the last solar eclipse. You can notice these features in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and soft x-ray solar images.

The solar wind still flows from the Sun and towards the Earth, but the coronal holes are known to release an enhanced solar wind. Coronal holes can develop anywhere on the sun and are more common during solar minimum. A solar rotation of the Sun occurs every 27 days and the coronal holes can sometimes last for several. It is common to see persistent coronal holes at the north and south poles of the Sun, but they can sometimes extend towards the Sun’s equator, resulting in a larger region. Normally, coronal holes located near the Sun’s equator cause a faster solar wind to hit Earth. It is common to see coronal holes producing geomagnetic storm levels G1-G2 and sometimes, on rare occasions, levels up to G3 have been reached.

The dark regions of this SDO image are what a crown hole looks like.  Image: NASA / SDO
This is just one example of the data forecasters will look at to determine when the effects of the crown hole are coming. Image: NASA / Aurorasaurus

Geomagnetic thunderstorms are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the weakest and 5 having the most potential for damage. Even a G1 geomagnetic storm could create problems: there could be small fluctuations in the power grid and minor impacts on satellite operations. Aurora, also known as the “Northern Lights”, could be visible in high latitudes from northern Michigan and Maine to the north. The impacts and auroras change as the scale of the geomagnetic storm increases.

NOAA forecasters analyze these characteristics and must take them into account in every forecast. If Earth experiences the effects of a coronal hole and a coronal mass ejection is expected to impact Earth, the combined effects could result in a larger impact and a more intense geomagnetic storm. Analyzing data from the DSCOVER and ACE satellites is a way for forecasters to know when enhanced solar wind from a coral hole is about to arrive on Earth. A few things they look for in the data to determine when the enhanced solar wind comes to Earth:
• Solar wind speed increases
• The temperature increases
• Particle density decreases
• The strength of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) increases

While these solar events can help light up the sky with stunning auroras, they can also cause considerable damage to electronics, power grids, and satellite and radio communications. It is not planned this week, but such an event could occur in the future.

On September 1 and 2, 1859, a powerful geomagnetic storm struck Earth during Solar Cycle 10. A CME struck Earth and caused the largest geomagnetic storm on record. The storm was so intense that it created extremely bright and vivid auroras all over the planet: people in California thought the sun was rising early, people in the northeastern United States could read a newspaper at night. in the bright dawn light, and people as far south as Hawaii and south-central Mexico could see the dawn in the sky.

The event severely damaged the limited power and communication lines that existed at the time; telegraph systems around the world have failed, with some telegraph operators reporting receiving electric shocks.

Artist's rendering of the Parker solar probe in space.  Image: NASA
Artist’s rendering of the Parker solar probe in space, one of the assets scientists use to better understand solar activity and its impacts on Earth. Image: NASA

A study carried out in June 2013 by Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States showed that if the Carrington event occurred in modern times, damage in the United States could exceed 2.6 trillion dollars. dollars, or about 15% of the country’s annual GDP.

Although they are generally known for their weather forecasts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Weather Service (NWS) are also responsible for “space weather”. While there are private companies and other agencies that monitor and forecast space weather, the official source of space environment alerts and warnings is the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). The SWPC is located in Boulder, Colorado and is a service center of the NWS, which is part of NOAA. The Space Weather Prediction Center is also one of nine National Environmental Prediction Centers (NCEP) as they monitor current space weather activity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.


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