Northern Lights Visible a Bit Farther South as Moderate Solar Storm Hits the Earth

here’s a potential for a particularly spectacular light show in the night sky in the next few days after multiple coronal mass ejections (CME) produced by the sun on August 14 head toward Earth.  

A category G3 geomagnetic storm watch was predicted for August 18 which is considered a moderate storm, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

he storm was originally predicted to be no stronger than a category G2 but since the sun ejected multiple CMEs, at least four of those could have direct contact with Earth, upping the category to a G3, according to NOAA. 

Geomagnetic storms in this category have the potential to cause some power system irregularities and intermittent errors in GPS systems but more importantly, they can also produce northern lights.  

The NOAA predicts auroras could be seen as far as Oregon to Pennsylvania and even Iowa. 

The storm is expected to downgrade to a G2 storm by August 19. 

What is a CME?

Every 11 years, the sun completes a solar cycle in which mass amounts of radiation and plasma are emitted in the form of solar storms.  

During this cycle, large eruptions of immense energy containing the power of several nuclear bombs explode from the surface of the sun, ripple through space and inevitably strike Earth. These are CMEs. Traveling at over a million miles per hour, the ejected mass of protons and electrons can cross the 93-million-mile distance from the sun to the Earth in a matter of days.  

Because the area of space between the Earth and the sun is so vast, there are many CMEs that don’t actually reach our home planet. 

But every now and then, this massive explosion of energy does hit our planet, resulting in a geomagnetic storm which usually manifests into auroral lights typically seen near the north and south poles. 

Similar to how hurricanes are ranked by categories, The U.S. Space Weather Center (SWPC) ranks solar storms on a scale of “G1 Minor” to “G5 Extreme,” with a G5 storm being the most dangerous.

What is the KP INDEX?

The Kp-index is the global geomagnetic activity index that is based on 3-hour measurements from ground-based magnetometers around the world. Each station is calibrated according to its latitude and reports a certain K-indice depending on the geomagnetic activity measured at the location of the magnetometer. The K-index itself is a three hour long quasi-logarithmic local index of the geomagnetic activity at the given location and time compared to a calm day curve.

A magnetometer measures the maximum deviation of the horizontal component of the magnetic field at its location and reports this. The global Kp-index is then determined with an algorithm that puts the reported K-values of every station together. The Kp-index ranges from 0 to 9 where a value of 0 means that there is very little geomagnetic activity and a value of 9 means extreme geomagnetic storming.

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