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Where You Can See Auroras During Solar Bursts On Aug. 18

ScreenRant logo ScreenRant 8/18/2022 Rachel Rochester
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A powerful geomagnetic storm in space is headed for Earth, and it may result in exquisite auroras occurring outside the arctic circle this week. With the recent supermoon and peak of the Perseids meteor shower, this is but one in a series of exciting opportunities for star gazers and space fans this month.

Auroras were first documented in cave paintings dating back to 30,000 BCE, and they have been enchanting celestial observers ever since. While auroras occur almost nightly on Earth, they rarely appear farther south than the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions. Auroras are natural light displays that resemble amorphous rainbows shape-shifting in the night sky. When solar winds, which are made up of ions, reach Earth, they are caught up in the planet’s magnetic field and funneled toward the planet’s poles. There they collide with oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere, releasing energy that manifests as a colorful and brilliant glow. Other planets experience auroras, too, most famously Saturn’s magnificent red and purple auroras, but terrestrial auroras tend to be green. The difference is because of the two planets’ vastly different atmospheric composition; instead of oxygen and nitrogen, the auroras on Saturn are the result of hydrogen collisions.

Related: How To Watch SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon Spacecraft Departure Live

The impending storm, however, may offer people across North America the opportunity to witness an unusual aurora without leaving home. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the organization responsible for tracking the storm, reports that it is likely to hit Earth on Wednesday, peak on Thursday, and peter out on Friday. During that window, viewers in the Northern United States should look up at the night sky any time after the sun sets. The aurora might be visible in the evenings over much of the Northern half of the U.S., as long as overcast skies don’t interfere. According to a Washington Post interview with Bill Murtagh, the program coordinator of the NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center, the light show may be visible from New England, across the Great Lakes region and upper Midwest, and into northwest Oregon and Washington state.

The Wrath And Reward Of Geomagnetic Storms

Geomagnetic storms unfortunately have effects that extend beyond luminous skies. In addition to spectacular light displays, they can also threaten astronauts in space, cause damage to communication technologies, trigger blackouts, interfere with satellite communication, and in severe cases, even fell satellites in orbit. A geomagnetic storm destroyed 40 Starlink satellites earlier this year. Nevertheless, this one is only expected to be a G3 storm — which is relatively moderate — and is not anticipated to cause any lasting damage. The coming storm is the result of a massive hole in the sun, which has given rise to more forceful solar winds than usual. Those winds alone might be fierce enough to reach Earth’s atmosphere, but they are currently predicted to combine with two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that burst out of the sun last week, becoming stronger than they would be otherwise.

Despite the NOAA’s geomagnetic storm watch warning, scientists emphasize that there isn’t any danger associated with this particular burst of solar activity. Without any fear of danger from this storm, it’s an excellent opportunity to turn out the lights, look up into space, and enjoy the spectacle.

Source: NOAA, The Washington Post

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