A massive solar eruption is about to hit Earth, and the resulting northern lights could be spectacular just before New Year’s Eve for those in the right latitudes. NOAA forecasts the aurora borealis will dip clear down to Oregon, with a small chance of even the Bay Area seeing the northern lights.
“It’s certainly possible,” Terry Onsager, a physicist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Sfgate. “It depends entirely on the strength of the storm. If it turns out to be stronger than that, it could be seen.”
On Monday, a powerful M1.9 class solar flare erupted from the sun. The solar phenomenon will hit Earth early in the morning on December 30th, and the effects could linger into New Year’s Eve.
NOAA is predicting a strong “G3” class geomagnetic storm. The rating system classifies the magnetic fields created by these solar events on a scale of G1 to G5. A G3 storm like what will hit this week can create fluctuations in power grids, cause radio blackouts in the higher latitudes, and even affect GPS reception. A less common G4 storm would create northern lights visible in California.
Onsager describes the coronal mass ejection as, “…a chunk of the sun’s atmosphere, mainly protons and electrons, that carries a magnetic field.”
“The whole earth’s magnetic system is embedded in this flowing ‘battery,’” said Onsager, “and that is what drives the electric currents around us.” When the electricity hits the upper atmosphere, it glows just like a neon light.
If you’re flying early…