Surprise Solar Storm Delivers Spectacular Aurora Display

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 - 1:28PM
Sun
Space Imagery
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 - 1:28PM
Surprise Solar Storm Delivers Spectacular Aurora Display
A severe solar storm blasted Earth with a larger-than-expected geomagnetic jolt on Tuesday night, bringing with it a spectacular display of the aurora, which could last well into Wednesday.


(Credit: Rex)



Ranking as a category 4 storm, which is labelled severe on the NOAA's 1-5 scale of geomagnetic effects, this was the strongest solar storm to hit Earth since fall 2013. 


(Credit: Ian Griffin)



It was caused by two blasts of magnetic plasma that left the sun on Sunday and eventually converged upon Earth on Tuesday evening. The surprise element of the storm came when the plasma's approach was detected around 15 hours earlier and much, much stronger than expected. Authorities warned of possible disruption to power girds, GPS, and communication systems, but luckily, in this case there were no bursts of radiation that could possibly affect satellite operations. 


(Credit: Jaqui Images)



The result: one amazing view of the Aurora Borealis. Early on Tuesday, even before the sunrise, auroras were already being seen in northeastern US, followed throughout the day by appearances in Estonia, Alaska, Russia, and Australia among others. Normally, aurorae are a treat reserved for those who live in the far North or South of our planet, but the stronger a storm is, the further the celestial show is pushed into central areas. In the case of this storm, areas of the continental US, such as Michigan, Maine and Minnesota could be treated to a spectacular show on Wednesday night, although clouds could put a damper on proceedings for those in the latter.

ISS commander Terry Virts captured this amazing "space vine" of the aurora:

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