Earth on alert for geomagnetic storm G2

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 National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) warns that a G2-class geomagnetic storm could impact Earth on Thursday, possibly affecting power grids and transformers, interfering with satellites, disrupting radio communications and sending the Northern Lights much further south than usual. . In its latest bulletin, the SWPC believes there is a chance of geomagnetic storm G1 conditions on Earth tomorrow, becoming a geomagnetic storm G2 event for Thursday.

Several explosive events have occurred on the Sun in recent days, each sending different types of explosions towards Earth. During the past 48 hours, the aurora has been spotted in southern Alaska and across New York City, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Based on observations from NASA's Solar Earth Relations Observatory, also known as STEREO, show that the CME left the sun a few days ago.  Image: NASA
A CME filament eruption has occurred; one of them was captured here during another solar event by NASA’s Solar Earth Relations Observatory, also known as STEREO. Image: NASA

A minor improvement in solar wind is likely tonight as the August 26 Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) passes close to Earth, according to the SWPC. Solar wind parameters are expected to improve again on September 1 and 2 due to the expected arrival of the August 28 CME combined with an additional CME of a filament that disappeared near the central meridian on August 28.

Geomagnetic thunderstorms are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the weakest and 5 being the most likely to cause 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 of northern Michigan and Maine to northern points. The impacts and auroras change as the scale of the geomagnetic storm increases.

Graph showing NOAA space weather scales for geomagnetic storms.  Image: NOAA
Graph showing NOAA space weather scales for geomagnetic storms. Image: NOAA

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

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

If you’re an aurora hunter or space weather enthusiast, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with coronal holes. They will provide much of our geomagnetic activity in the future and will remain persistent during solar minimum. Citizen scientists should explore Aurorasaurus which allows you to share or get alerts and images of aurora activity with a community of other people interested in space weather.

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.

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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