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Geomagnetic Storms: Auroras & Effects



  Apr 03, 2024

Geomagnetic Storms: Auroras & Effects



1. Geomagnetic Storms:

● A geomagnetic storm, also known as a magnetic storm, is a temporary disturbance of the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by a shock wave from the solar wind. These disturbances can be triggered by either a solar coronal mass ejection (CME) or, to a lesser extent, a co-rotating interaction region (CIR)—a high-speed stream of solar wind originating from the Sun.

● When a CME or CIR reaches Earth, it interacts with our planet’s magnetic field, leading to various effects.

2. Effects of Geomagnetic Storms:

● Satellites: Geomagnetic storms can potentially damage the electronics in satellites orbiting Earth.

● Radio Communication Networks: Radio communication networks on Earth may experience disruptions due to geomagnetic storms.

● GPS Signals: The accuracy of GPS signals can be affected during these events.

● Electrical Grid: On Earth, geomagnetic storms can impact the electrical grid.

● Auroras: The most visible manifestation of geomagnetic storms is the appearance of auroras—spectacular displays of light in the upper atmosphere.

♦ Auroras occur primarily at high latitudes, such as in Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, and Antarctica. Under quiet space weather conditions, they are prominent in these regions.

♦ When a space weather disturbance occurs, auroras can migrate to lower latitudes, becoming visible across the continental United States, central Europe, and even southern and mainland Australia.

♦ Normally, the main region for auroras is the auroral oval, which lies around 65–70 degrees north or south of the equator, encircling the polar caps.

♦ However, when the interplanetary magnetic field points northward, auroras can occur at even higher latitudes. One type is known as a “theta aurora”, resembling the Greek letter theta—an oval with a line crossing through the center.

♦ The interaction of solar wind particles with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere produces the characteristic colors of auroras: green, red, blue, and purple.

3. Recent Severe Geomagnetic Storm:

● Recently, Earth experienced a severe geomagnetic storm, the second-highest level in NOAA’s rating system.

● This storm resulted from a CME that exploded alongside a solar flare. Although not the strongest on record, it had the potential to impact technology and extend the northern lights as far south as Alabama.

● While the public need not be concerned, infrastructure operators were notified to take mitigative actions.

● The storm’s effects included voltage control issues, longer periods of GPS degradation, and potential impacts on power systems and transformers.

In summary, geomagnetic storms are captivating cosmic events that connect the Sun and Earth, creating dazzling auroras and occasionally affecting our technological infrastructure.


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