A massive geomagnetic storm has erupted from the Sun, and it could soon affect electrical systems on Earth as well as on satellites above our planet.
A sunspot likely emitted a pair of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that combined into a single powerful storm. Early models had predicted that the electrically-charged material would only have a minor effect on the Earth. However, the storm has created deramatic auroras on our planet that have been seen as far south as Michigan. The dazzling displays will likely continue through March 17, according to officials at NASA.
The storm was first observed at 9:58 a.m. on March 17 and has repeatedly peaked at G4 on a five-point scale used to measure such events. It is possible that this current event could negatively impact satellite navigation, including GPS devices. However, the storm is not expected to be powerful enough to impact high-altitude flight of aircraft or satellite electronics.
Some temporary disruptions in the electrical grid could be seen if the storm continues. A few flights that travel along polar routes, such as those headed from the eastern United States to some destinations in Asia, might be rerouted to avoid interference with communication systems.
"During storms, the currents in the ionosphere, as well as the energetic particles that precipitate into the ionosphere, add energy in the form of heat that can increase the density and distribution of density in the upper atmosphere, causing extra drag on satellites in low-earth orbit. The local heating ... can modify the path of radio signals and create errors in the positioning information provided by GPS," The Space Weather Prediction Center reports.
If the storm continues through the day during Saint Patrick's Day at the same rate as was seen during the morning, auroras may be seen as far south as Washington D.C. if this event behaves similarly to previous storms of the same magnitude.
"[W]e have seen reports of aurora as far south as Tennessee, New Mexico and Oklahoma. A lot of factors go into whether you can see the aurora, cloud cover most importantly, and proximity to city lights. We are favorable in terms of the moon being crescent, which will give us pretty dark skies," Brent Gordon, branch chief of the Space Weather Prediction Center, said.
The storm presently coursing its way through the magnetosphere of the Earth is the most powerful event of its kind yet seen during the current solar cycle.
These stunning auroras are glowing bright green, just in time for Saint Patrick's Day.