If you’re in the Northern US or Canada, you might have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights tonight, as a small solar storm makes its way to Earth.
Northern states such as Michigan and Maine are expected to be in with a bit of a show, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), a result of a G1 class geomagnetic storm caused by the Sun.
That’s pretty weak (the scale goes up to G5), but it should still be enough to amplify the aurora borealis for some observers. It’s the result of a coronal hole that opened on the Sun on March 12, sending a stream of solar particles our way.
According to the NOAA’s aurora forecast, which you can see below, the aurora should be visible quite far south tonight. It should also be visible in parts of the UK, mostly Scotland and a few northern places, although it could be seen as far south as London.
The aurora should continue putting on a show for the next couple of days. The best way to catch a glimpse is to look up on a clear night in an area without much light pollution, so start finding those dark sky sites.
A G1 storm can cause some power grid issues, and also affect satellites. Fortunately, we can prepare for these events by knowing when they will occur, which is why organizations like the SWPC are so important.
Note that there are a lot of false headlines making the rounds about a massive solar storm that is headed our way that could cause a lot of damage. Some have even suggested “equinox cracks” in Earth’s magnetic field could leave us vulnerable.
“This is just garbage, quite frankly,” Robert Rutledge from the SWPC told Mashable.
The minor storm is a bit unusual though in that it’s caused by a coronal hole. Normally we associate geomagnetic storms with solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), eruptions of material from the Sun’s surface.
However, even a coronal hole can produce geomagnetic storms. These are colder regions where the Sun’s magnetic field lines have “opened”, allowing hot gases and particles to escape. As such they’re a bit less intense than storms caused by solar flares – but they can still put on a good show for us.
The Sun is currently heading towards its solar minimum in 2019 or 2020, the phase in its 11-year solar cycle when its flare activity lessens. But during this phase, the number of coronal holes actually increase and can last for a long time, so there could be a few more of these minor storms on the way.