Sun unleashes X-Class solar flare, could bring auroras
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - An explosion on the sun Thursday morning unleashed a major X-Class solar flare, only the second flare this year to reach that strength and the first in at least 4 years to be Earth-directed. Solar activity has been on the low side in the past few years thanks to a lull in sunspots as the sun dipped into what is known as the solar minimum, or the quietest part of the 11-year solar cycle. Now we are on an upward swing in solar activity, quickly moving toward solar maximum, the most active part of the cycle. We should reach solar maximum in 2024 or 2025. This means more flares can be expected in the coming years.
Solar flares are explosions that emanate from sunspots or darker patches on the sun formed by complex magnetic fields. Flares are measured on a scale, with A-class flares being the smallest and X-class flares being the largest.
Today’s X-Class flare unleashed a wave of particles in the solar wind known as a coronal mass ejection. This push of solar material, or CME, should reach Earth in about 2 to 3 days’ time. When CMEs impact Earth’s magnetic field, a geomagnetic storm is possible. These storms can cause minor disruption in GPS networks, but the more impactful result for most of us is a beautiful display of the Aurora Borealis.
The National Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a G3 Geomagnetic Storm Watch in effect for Saturday. The impacts would likely begin late Friday night local time, peaking Saturday morning. A G3 storm will typically produce auroras for most northern U.S. states, with some visibility possible as far south of Iowa and Nebraska. Geomagnetic storms can sometimes cause disruptions to the GPS network and power grids, but any impacts with this event should be minor to nonexistent.
Another weaker solar flare produced a storm just a few weeks ago, which resulted in a fantastic display of the Northern Lights that was visible from parts of Nebraska and Iowa. While it is too early to say exactly how significant any upcoming geomagnetic storm will be, it is quite possible another display of the Aurora Borealis is on the way. Stay tuned!
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