In case you missed it, this past weekend a massive solar storm smashed into the earth’s magnetic field. Of course, no Armageddon-like events occurred, nor were they expected to, but the phenomenon did create a beautiful aurora (a site usually limited to the most northern parts of the globe) that was visible in places as far south as Arkansas.
This solar storm occurred when the sun emitted an X-class flare full of highly charged particles, which is not an unusual occurrence besides the fact that this flare was incredibly large and sending particles directly towards earth.
Weather forecasters rightly predicted the event to be relatively mild, although they did say the storm could cause some geomagnetic disturbances capable of disrupting satellites, GPS, and power grids. In the end, the bombardment of charged particles lasted all weekend with little affect other than the rainbow of colors that lit up the sky on Sunday night.
As with all auroras, the colors were a result of highly-charged particles of energy meeting earth’s upper atmosphere and interacting with its magnetic field. This connection caused the atoms to become excited and emit light.
Although this solar storm had no ill-effects, such an outcome is not always the case. In 1989, a massive solar storm knocked out a power grid in Quebec, Canada leaving 6 million people without electricity. Thus, meteorologists continue to monitor such events so people can prepare for blackouts, satellite disruptions, and other eventualities.
Expect to hear more news about solar flares (this is the sixth one this year) in the coming months and years as the sun is approaching a “solar maximum” — a period of increased solar storms which results in more flares than usual. This period officially starts in 2013 and will finish its cycle 11 years later.
Were you able to catch a glimpse of Sunday night’s aurora?