On Thursday, the sun launched what is called an “X-class solar flare” that was strong enough to spark a high-frequency radio blackout across parts of South America. The energy from that flare is trailed by a cluster of solar plasma and other material called a coronal mass ejection, or CME for short. That’s heading toward Earth, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue a warning about a potentially strong geomagnetic storm.
Aurora Borealis (northern lights) in southeast Alaska seen in late summer -file photo. (iStock)
It might sound like something from a science fiction movie. But really it just means that a good chunk of the northern part of the country may get treated to a light show called the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.
“The Northern Lights were out last night from about 11 to midnight. At times they were bright and well defined. This picture was shot at Elbow Lake near Grand Marais, Minnesota. Even with the streaks, you can still make out the shape of the big dipper pointing right to the North Star.” – Photographer Bryan Hansel (Bryan Hansel)
Geomagnetic storms as big as what might be coming can produce displays of the lights that can be seen at latitudes as low as Pennsylvania, Oregon an Iowa. It could also cause voltage irregularities on high-latitude power grids as the loss of radio contact on the sunlit side of the planet.
April 24, 2012: Northern lights on the horizon. (Shawn Malone/LakeSuperiorPhoto.com)