Impending Solar Storms Could Cause Dazzling Northern Lights: How to Watch

by Megan Molseed
(Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

Solar storms are set to strike earth tomorrow setting off a spectacular Northern Lights display. Solar storms have been erupting from the sun this week, and experts say, this is triggering the aurora lights and creating quite the display.

According to the experts, the storms will result in some pretty impressive lights – at altitudes lower than normal. Those in the U.S. should have a view of these impressive aurora lights by Wednesday night. Those in Europe, however, can expect to see the Northern Lights just before dawn on Thursday, March 31.

“When chasing auroras, dark skies are essential,” notes U.S. astronomer Dr. Tony Phillips. Phillips suggests stepping away from well-lit areas when searching the sky for the aurora lights.

“Urban glare can overwhelm auroras even during a strong geomagnetic storm,” Phillips says. “Go to the countryside.”

Solar Storms Send Energizing Particles Into the Atmosphere

Solar storms are massive expulsions of plasma, the material that occurs on the sun’s outer layer. When they hit Earth, they energize particles in the atmosphere, creating the colorful Northern Lights displays. While these are certainly affecting our planet, harmful radiation from the sun is of no concern during events such as this.

“Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground,” NASA explains of these solar storms. However, NASA does note that when these storms become intense enough, they can “disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.”

These Events Will Continue As the Sun Is In the Start Of A New Solar Cycle

So far, NASA has observed 17 of these solar storms as they explode from the sun. And, at least two of these storms are headed in our direction. The first of these solar storms – which are called Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) was spotted by NASA originating from an active sunspot NASA scientists say. And, when these storms reach the Earth as early as tomorrow, they will likely set off a “geomagnetic storm.”

A daunting term, no doubt. But, there is no need to worry. These geomagnetic storms are mostly harmless. However, they do set off disturbances in the magnetic fields. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s space weather alert system, while largely harmless, Earth could see some effects of these solar storms. According to the system we can expect G3 and G2 geomagnetic storm ratings on Thursday and Friday. The biggest impact we are expected to see is the potential impact the G3 storms could have regarding satellite and technology disruption.

According to NASA, our Sun is at the start of a new cycle. These solar cycles last around 11 years. Solar eruptions and flares occur often during the early parts of these solar cycles. And, they grow more intense as time goes on. In fact, the solar storm and flare events are expected to peak around 2025.