The Space Weather Prediction Center says we may be in for a geomagnetic storm or two this weekend. Well, okay. I guess that means no galoshes, then?
Here’s the scoop: there were some coronal mass ejections on Thursday night and Friday, as accurately forecast by the Space Weather Prediction Center. Coronal mass ejections, which are similar to solar flares, are when the sun spews a bunch of plasma, wind, and electromagnetic radiation out into the solar system. The second CME was particularly intense—an “X-class” ejection, which is the highest/strongest class. By the time they reach Earth (i.e. right about now), we’ll experience the effects of the solar storm.
The question is what those effects will be, and how severe. It’s possible that we’ll have power outages, such as the one Quebec suffered back in 1989 when a solar storm interrupted power to the entire province for the better part of a day. GSP and radio communications may also be affected, as well as satellites. Be careful out there, astronauts (and soldiers). Experts think our gadgets will be okay (provided they’re fully charged in the event we lose power). But apparently, solar storms can mess with homing pigeons, so if you use them as your main form of communication, you may need to prepare an alternate plan.
Another consequence of such a solar storm is that it can set the stage for some seriously dramatic cosmic light shows. The energized atomic particles coming from the CME reach Earth via the lines of the planet’s magnetic field, and as they near the North and South Poles, they ignite the protons in the atmosphere and boost the gases that cause the Northern Lights. So tonight, depending on where you live, you may be able to see some psychedelic colors streaking the sky.
Technically, the lights may be visible any time after the sun goes down, but best viewing is generally predicted for around midnight. I’m happy to say that the Northeastern part of the continent is well positioned to see some color, as is part of the Northwest and mountain/Midwest area. The moon may still be a little brighter than is ideal for viewing, and cloud coverage could put a damper on the show. But DSLR cameras will be able to capture some pretty sweet images if for some reason our views are obscured.