The US Metrological department has issued a warning mentioning the recent flaring of solar eruptions could breach Earth’s magnetic field resulting in the expansion of the Northern Lights further down the hemisphere. By Thursday evening, the Northern Lights will be at their brightest illumination and maximum intensity. It could well be witnessed in the whole of Canada, Alaska and northern plains of US and perhaps even as distant south as Seattle, Chicago and Boston. Europe too will witness the “Dance of the Spirits” in the UK, Scotland and Ireland. The University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute mentioned the recent Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) as the chief contributor in the phenomena. NASA’s indigenous solar weather satellites detected the flares on January 7, 2014. Classified as an X-Class Flare, the Solar Radiation Storm is at its climax, also called the S3 Levels, is moving towards the earth at 4 million mph and will reach us tomorrow at 7am EST. It is predicted that CME might push the flaring beyond S3 levels.
Northern Lights: The Phenomena
The Northern Lights, referred to as Aurora Borealis in cosmic parlance has made big headlines at the very start of the New Year. Solar flares erupting from Sun’s surface have intensified these Northern Lights. The solar flares are a part of the periodic phenomena called the Solar maximum which results in increased solar output. The solar maximum has a serious impact on the Earth’s regional weather patterns and distorts localized polar magnetic fields. The inflating solar storm is also responsible for a scintillating Light show over the higher latitudes encircling the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Known as the “Dance of the Spirits”, the Northern Lights appear as colorful curtain-like striations extending in an east-west direction, forming visible arches around the Earth’s Northern magnetic field. CME releases minefield of free electrons and positive ions that accelerate towards Earth’s magnetic field.
When the solar flares breach the Earth’s atmosphere, the spectacular Light Show featuring a color spectrum of all wavelengths appears. Green auroras, with mildly pink and red ones are very common. The various tinges are due to the collisions between photons from solar wind and the oxygen and nitrogen atoms present in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Effects of Solar Flare and the Intensified Northern Lights
CME X1 was first detected by the THEMIS probe in September 2013. Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of California University at Los Angeles is the chief investigator for the THEMIS mission. Earth-bound satellites will bear the full brunt of these flares resulting in loss of transmission or complete vaporization irrespective of the intensity and degree of its inclination. GPS systems on airplanes and car navigation systems may also fail. As far as the astronauts stationed on the International Space Station are concerned, NASA has issued certain safety protocols to prevent any loss of life and property on-board.
By Grace Stephen
New National Post