10/22/18 -- Northern Lights Fly South For The Winter

Northern Lights Fly South For The Winter

New York Times
October 22, 2018

NEW YORK — A series of coronal mass ejections over the past few days have hurled bursts of solar gas and magnetic field at our planet, sparking a severe geomagnetic storm and pushing not only the aurora borealis deep into the Lower 48 states, but more unusually the Aurora australis (also known as the southern lights) have crept as far north across the globe as Manaus, Brazil. The southern lights have not traveled this far north since they appeared over the island of Samoa in 1921 during a particularly violent solar storm.

On Monday night, the northern lights were photographed in states that rarely get to witness the optical manifestation of a solar storm. The Northeast was brimming with hues of green, pink and purple, but photographers in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and even Texas.

The sun continues to throw off waves of electromagnetic energy that is severely disrupting satellite and radio broadcasts across the globe. The rapid-fire coronal mass ejections happening in the sun now have never been recorded prior, and are not unlike a slow strobe light of electromagnetic radiation. These bombardments are occuring with a frequency never before seen and Earth is predicted to be in the path of the bombardments at least until the new year.

Scientists are struggling to understand what is happening to the sun, but suggest that while it is an unexplained phenomenon it does not have any telltale signs of a disasterous Carrington-level event the likes of which was experienced in 1859. The charged particles released by this event will likely lead to extra precautions being taken with high-altitude international flights and cause minor telecommunications disruptions, but these rapid-fire bursts are not powerful enough to cause lasting damage.

Scientists have long known that solar storms cause electrical problems. But why does solar weather distort Earth's ionosphere? Scientists can't yet fully explain the mechanics that cause disturbance to GPS transmissions passing through the ionosphere on the way to receivers at ground level. A significant solar storm such as this can cause GPS inaccuracies measured in the tens of meters.

Much of our understanding of Earth's ionosphere and auroras' effects on technology are gleaned from solar research stations like those on the island of Svalbard, sites in remote reaches of northwestern China, and formerly solar research stations in America's southwest. At these institutions, researchers fire radio beams into the ionosphere, mimicking the effects of a solar flare in order to measure solar interference. They hope to develop a system to forecast the effects of space weather on communications systems.

Expect to see more of Earth's auroras in the coming weeks and months than ever before, but be sure to stay safe while observing mother nature's light show and watch responsibly, and never let the lights distract you while driving.

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