A large solar flare is expected to erupt just ahead of New Year’s and one of the most intriguing results will be how it affects the northern lights.
According to SFGate.com, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected the solar eruption to make the aurora borealis visible in Oregon and possibly even as far south as California’s Bay Area.
The NOAA recently upgraded the solar flare to a G3 geomagnetic storm, a rating two places away from the highest it could be. It is expected to hit the Earth Wednesday.
“It’s certainly possible,” Terry Onsager, an NOAA physicist, told SFGate.com of the possibility the Bay Area sees the northern lights. “It depends entirely on the strength of the storm. If it turns out to be stronger than that, it could be seen.
“The whole earth’s magnetic system is embedded in this flowing ‘battery,’ and that is what drives the electric currents around us.”
When strong enough, solar flares can disrupt various systems on Earth like radio and GPS when they hit the planet’s atmosphere. It is not clear if that will be the case for this solar storm and, if so, how much of the globe will be affected.
“For more than an hour, UV radiation from the flare bathed the top of Earth’s atmosphere, ionizing atoms and molecules,” read an analysis from SpaceWeather.com. “This, in turn, disrupted the normal propagation of shortwave radio signals on the dayside of our planet. A NOAA blackout map shows the affected area. Ham radio operators, mariners and aviators in South America, Africa and the south Atlantic Ocean may have noticed fades and blackouts of transmissions below 20 MHz.”