Major Geomagnetic Storms Set To Hit Earth Soon

Get your geomagnetic umbrella!

By Douglas Helm | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

geomagnetic storm

If you’re in an area of the world that experiences visible aurora borealis, you might be in for quite the show this week. According to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we’re set to get some geomagnetic storms in the next couple of days.

Fortunately, these geomagnetic storms won’t be significant enough to cause any major issues. Their strength will at worst lead to some radio signal issues at higher latitudes, satellite issues, and changes in animal migratory patterns. It will, as mentioned, also likely intensify aurora borealis visibility and activity in certain parts of the world.

Although geomagnetic storms, also known as solar storms, sound intimidating, they’re a fairly normal space phenomenon that don’t typically cause too many issues for the average person. These storms occur when solar winds and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) collide with our planet’s magnetic field. The mild and moderate storms can cause minimal disruptions to technology and animal behavior, but there have been more significant storms that cause more significant problems. Strong storms in the past have knocked out telegraph services in the last 1800s and knocked out a power grid in the late 1900s. Fortunately, the storms occurring this week aren’t nearly at this level.

The conditions that cause geomagnetic storms are quite interesting. The aforementioned CMEs blast magnetic fields and plasma from the Sun’s corona while solar winds are born from holes in the corona, where the plasma is cooler and less dense. These holes make it easy for electromagnetic radiation to escape, causing solar winds. When these CMEs and solar winds are facing Earth, they lead to the solar storm phenomena.

geomagnetic storm

If you are amongst the lucky ones who live somewhere where aurora borealis is visible, you should be paying special attention to March 15 and March 16th. Space Weather’s forecast is predicting the geomagnetic storms will cause the Kp index to be up to a six on the nine-point Kp scale. The Kp index is used to measure the strength of a geomagnetic event, and the higher the number on the index the more likely aurora borealis is to be visible and highly active. The high level of solar activity also means that coronas may be visible during an aurora borealis viewing, which can cause the Northern Lights to be very colorful.

The Sun is currently working its way up to being more active in the coming years. The Sun goes through an 11-year activity cycle where activity peaks at the solar maximum and is at its weakest during the solar minimum. The last solar minimum occurred in 2019, so the solar maximum is fast approaching, which means stronger geomagnetic storms could be on their way. The next solar maximum is set to be around July 2025, so aurora chasers will definitely want to mark their calendars. Of course, it’s not all good news and pretty lights. Depending on the strength of the storms, they could cause issues with our various technologies, so it would be nice if we hit that happy medium of great sky shows without the power grid shutdowns.

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