Scientists from around the world are expecting beautiful auroras across the sky on Thursday as strongest solar flares seen in five years are sending a mass of charged particles towards Earth, which could cause radio interference and auroral displays.
Once the flares reach Earth, their impact with the planet's magnetic shield would spawn the so-called northern lights or Aurora Borealis and could cause widespread disruptions, depending on their magnitude, on technology infrastructures such as telecommunications and power grids.
The sun unleashed a medium-sized (M-2) solar flare that peaked at 1:41a.m. ET on Tuesday. The coronal mass ejection (CME) is moving at 1400 km/s. This radiation storm did not squarely blow to Earth, but it should deliver a glancing blow to Earth's magnetic field during the late hours of June 8 or June 9, according to NASA.
The US National Weather Service (NWS) said in a statement that the current solar flare-released radiation, not witnessed since 2006, was measured by NASA as M-2 or medium sized solar flare that carries a substantial coronal mass ejection (CME) ... and is visually spectacular.
High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for Auroras or Aurora Borealis, also known as Northern lights, which are created as a result of some natural mechanism between solar wind, ions flow, Earth's magnetic field and collisions between ions and atmospheric atoms and molecules that cause energy releases in the form of colorful lights.
The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks predicts higher auroral activity for Thursday. The auroras would be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Sept-Iles. The visibility might be low on the horizon from Seattle, Des Moines, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and Halifax.
For the Northern Hemisphere, the aurora should be visible mainly in North America, since the sun is illuminating most of the auroral zone in Russia and Scandinavia. If the timing is right, the disturbance will lead to auroras visible from the Northern US on Wednesday night, the institute predicted.
While a strong solar flare increases the chance of a spectacular light show, the electromagnetic pulse can also disrupt satellite communications, power grids and radio traffic when it passes Earth. Some industries that are usually affected by solar flares include electrical power grid companies, airlines, GPS, military and ocean shipping routes.
Flares send bursts of X-rays and charged particles -- mostly protons -- out from the Sun's surface into space. Occasionally one is pointed towards Earth. They are classified according to how powerful they are, as A, B, C, M or X, with X being the most powerful. The flare SDO detected was an M-class flare on June 7.
The last big solar flare occurred in 2006, and more powerful ones have occurred in 2005 and 2003 as well. The most powerful ever recorded was in 1859 and was sufficiently strong to damage electrical equipment.
NASA's solar dynamics observatory said that while the flare will cause a geomagnetic storm it will not be severe as the flare was not directly in line with Earth.